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

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

Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

£24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Analyst – 2 year fixed term contract – Kent – Circa £55k

£45000 - £55000 Per Annum 31 days holiday, pension, healthcare, annual bonus: ...

**SEN Primary Teacher Serf Unit **

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experie...

Experienced Foundation Teacher

£100 - £222 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting f...

Day In a Page

An oil rig in the North Sea  

The Scottish people deserve the truth about North Sea oil and gas

Colin Tinto
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week