Just to reassure you, the central couple in The Nativity Panto are elves called Mary and Joe Christmas. They live at the North Pole and their household companion is Rudolph, a red-nosed reindeer with self-esteem issues.
When Mary gets impregnated, it is via the Holly (that’s double ‘l’) Spirit – you can imagine the jokes for yourselves. Jeopardy ensues when wicked Jack Frost, who wants to deep-freeze the world by sucking all the joy out of it, learns that Mary and Joe’s progeny will threaten his plans. He turns distinctly Herod-like and Act I climaxes with a slickly crafted musical ensemble as he and his henchman (or rather henchsnowflake) hatch their scheme while Mary, Joe and Rudolph prepare to flee their home.
The score combines original numbers, an array of cheesy pop (paying homage to, among others, A-ha, Barry Manilow, Vanilla Ice and the Spice Girls), a snatch or two of Prokofiev’s Troika and a beautifully sung version (with new lyrics) of O Holy Night. Happily, at the cheek-by-jowl King’s Head, and with some operatic voices in the cast, there’s no need for amplification.
A cosy sense of tradition radiates from the rhyming script, dodgy puns, toytown designs and classic panto business (though there is no ‘Look behind you!’), but what really makes the show is the boundless energy, sharp responses and versatility of the cast. By the end you feel you’ve been through a lot with them, and – with three kings following a star and some doubling or trebling of roles – it’s a surprise to see only five performers taking a bow.