The nativity play was a real rite of passage in British primary schools and this one took place in my last year in Ysgol Emmanuel, 1967.
My earliest friends are all on this photo, but I’m struggling to identify them for three reasons, a grainy photo, a grainy memory and the cunning Middle Eastern disguises many of them have adopted.
I was relieved to be picked by Mr Williams to be one of the narrators, as in a previous production on that stage I had played the King of Hearts. My tights split when we had to ‘all fall down‘ in the final scene. Apparently is was felt to be a ‘tour de comic force’ by the audience. It was seen as the most embarrassing moment of a fledgling acting career by me and I determined never to darken the boards again with a theatrical presence. I have not spoken of that event from that day to this.
Then I was given the script …76 foolscap pages (in the age before the reign of the A4 format) from the smelly roneo machine that lurked in Miss Hasting’s office. All the letter o s had been inked in by the machine. I was told that I had to learn all my lines by heart as I would not be allowed to take the script on stage on the nights! He relented in the end and it was some comfort to have the words to refer to.
I am in the top left of the picture in the dark shirt. I was very tall for my age, which tended to enrage many older, yet smaller boys. ‘You think you are dead tall don’t you!’ was the regular preamble to a fight. Well, I say a fight, more accurately it was me getting a punching.
Coming out on to the stage that first night, with several hundred expectant parents gazing upward from an almost black auditorium and a blinding spotlight focused on me, did little to settle my nerves. I had been told to speak loudly and slowly, pausing at every comma to draw breath and to count to three between each sentence. Apparently I had gabbled my way through practises and the dress rehearsals. It seemed such a difficult thing to do, even with the most sympathetic of audiences willing me on. I have struggle to speak coherently and slowly ever since.
‘And lo, it came to pass…’ were my first words and I remember thinking that we had been told never to start a sentence with ‘and’. I wondered which was correct, the Bible or Mr Williams. I decided on this occasion to follow the Biblical words to the letter… on all other occasions I followed Mr Williams’ grammatical rulings… it made for an easier life.