Tim Key: 'There's nothing quite like opening night - the sound of crying coming from the wings'

The opening night of my local nativity play, that is

Share
Related Topics

I went to a nativity play last week down in south London. It was a one-off performance so tickets were like gold dust, but my niece was in it and she managed to score me a couple of comps. Nice and close to the front, too. I sat bearded and smug, eagerly anticipating what this relatively young company had cooked up.

There’s nothing quite like opening night. The buzz of excitement; a room gripped with possibilities. And this was no different. The atmosphere was thick with apprehension. Mostly in their thirties or babies, the audience waited patiently for the off. One could only imagine the last-minute preparations of the actors. For many it was their stage debut and that’s a big deal for a three-year-old. I couldn’t help picturing them backstage, their nerves in shreds; some of them, inevitably in floods. Also, because of the geography, a lot of the crying travelled through from the wings. These guys were clearly passionate about their work. They wanted to get cracking.

At around half 10, a teacher came on and said a few words about his charges. He had found working with them inspirational and hoped we would enjoy the fruits of their labours. He wore a friendly jumper and seemed to be managing expectations. He needn’t have bothered. The band struck up, the audience commenced filming, and, one by one, the stars trotted out. I necked my mulled wine and leant forward in my seat.

Now, when I say my niece was in it, I’m being a little coy. ‘In it’ barely covers it. My niece was the bloody lead. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the story. Basically, a pregnant woman holes up in a stable and gives birth to a  religious icon while various monarchs and sundry other hangers-on gather round and marvel at the procedure. Well, put it this way, my niece played the pregnant woman. She’d clearly been identified as a talent; now here she was, clutching a doll, all eyes on her.

This was a huge responsibility for Eliza. She’s only two or three and now she has to get to grips with Mary, an Israeli in her mid-twenties. I’ve done some acting in my time and once had to play a 40-year-old doctor, which wasn’t easy. But Eliza’s natural playing age is what? Three to five? And now here she is absolutely nailing Mary. Clearly she had researched the role. She looked sullen, confused, dignified. An enormous responsibility seemed to weigh heavy on her shoulders. Occasionally she would turn to her husband, her expression unreadable. You felt his pain.

While Eliza continued to boss it on a hay bail, the supporting cast rattled around her, the spectrum of acting ability and discipline gargantuan. Shepherds waddled about with crooks, talking to one another or laughing or crying or doing a mixture. There were about 10 kings, floating about in crowns, desperate to hand Eliza’s baby some myrrh. Some youngsters dazzled as stars, other, less talented kids, dressed as sheep and rolled on the floor. Carnage! And at its epicentre, Eliza. In the midst of all this horseshit, it was her stillness that drew the eye. My father, her grandfather, who’s done his fair share of Gilbert and Sullivan over the years, chain-munched mince pies and occasionally muttered “Perfect”. He got that right.

The piece hung together well enough. The story is so well known that even when they went four or five minutes without doing their lines or singing, you knew where you were. And if a song really needed singing, a teacher would step up and belt it out, and the kids would wiggle around in support.

Afterwards, I assembled at Stage Door, desperate to get a glimpse of the players. But they weren’t forthcoming. Fine. They were exhausted. They were stars. Fair play. I’ll catch up with Eliza at Christmas.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor