The Nativity Play

The Nativity Play.
A Bike Special
by Angharad

Copyright © 2012 Angharad
All Rights Reserved.

The Nativity Play.
A short story based upon an event mentioned in Bike.

“Right children, back to your positions. Ronnie do not do that please. Mollie back to the manger; Charlie Watts give Mollie back the doll. Charlie, boys don’t play with dolls.”

The diminutive boy gave the doll, substituting for the baby Jesus, back to its ‘mother’ the taller Mollie Theobald, who accepting the toy immediately coughed over it and anyone else within spitting distance. Fortunately for him, Charlie had turned and disconsolately walked away to pick up his lamb. He loved dolls, in fact anything girlish and he hated having to wear the cotton wool whiskers that hooked around his ears–they itched and several times he had taken them off, once hurling them across the room.

He took them off again and caused Mrs Murphy, his primary school teacher to come and speak to him. “Charlie, please put your whiskers back on.”

“I don’t want to, they itch.”

“If I let you leave them off for now d’you promise me you’ll wear them for the show this afternoon?”

He sighed, “I suppose so–I feel more like a sheep than a shepherd wearing them.” The description was possibly true as the home made lambs were covered in a fleece which consisted of half a roll of cotton wool and made by a team of teachers and parents at Bristol Downs Church School.

In the background Mollie Theobald could be heard coughing and one of the angels replying in like fashion, ‘Wonderful,’ thought the teacher all I need is a sick BVM. Eileen Murphy scanned her cast. Four angels, four shepherds, three wise men and a Mary and Joseph. She also rolled her eyes, apart from Joseph, whose real name was also Joseph, only Charlie had a clue about what they were actually trying to do.

She’d laughed when Charlie as the last of the shepherds had walked onto the stage making bleating noises and stroking his lamb as if it were a kitten or even a baby. He was a funny kid, gentle and loving more like the girls than most of the boys. Given the chance to choose toys from the toy box, Charlie always picked a doll or the doll’s house not cars or balls or even construction toys like Lego. Mrs Murphy wondered if he might be gay, although at five years old he wouldn’t know that yet.

They ran through the rehearsal four more times, Mollie was obviously not at her best and her coughing was getting worse. Charlie, Eileen Murphy noticed, was prompting the other members of the cast and helping them find their spots on the stage–it was like having a second director–but amazingly, he and Joseph seemed to know all the lines including those of the Angel Gabriel and the Magi. Had she realised earlier, Eileen might have bent the rules of always having girls as angels and boys as shepherds. Charlie would have made a great archangel and his diction was better than some of the others as well.

At the end of the morning the children took off their costumes and went off to lunch, Eileen Murphy and her colleague Sharon Parkes were discussing the pitfalls they were trying to avoid, like last year when one of the Magi dropped his box of gold on the new born Jesus. Had that happened in real life, Christianity might never have happened.

“I wish we’d picked Charlie Watts as Gabriel,” confessed Eileen to Sharon.

“But we always have a girl for Gabriel–though I suppose with him it wouldn’t have been much of a difference–I do worry about him, he’s a bit girly, isn’t he?”

“Yes but if you watch him, he’s got everyone’s lines and positions off pat, and he prompts them or pushes them into their places on the stage.”

“Yeah, a right little madam, isn’t he?” the two teachers chuckled, “But he’s a lovely kid and very bright,” agreed Sharon. They continued with their lunches and talked about Christmas in general which was now only a week away.

At half past one the children trundled back to their classes with Charlie having taken his beard home with him, he returned beardless, somehow managing to drop it behind the sofa where his mother wouldn’t see it for several hours and certainly not in time for the play–he could then pretend he was a shepherdess against his more hirsute companions.

“Charlie, please don’t wear your headdress like that, it’s not a scarf or shawl it’s a kaffiyeh.” Mrs Murphy shook her head, even when he put it on properly he looked more like Florence than Lawrence of Arabia, he was a very pretty child.

Her day was not improved when the headmistress came through to the hall and whispered quietly that, ‘Mollie Theobald’s mother had just phoned, she’s not returning to school this afternoon, she’s not well.’

“But she’s the Virgin Mary,” gasped Eileen.

“Sorry, but that’s what she said and I can’t argue with her. Can’t you find another girl, we’ve plenty to choose from.”

“But they won’t know the lines or positions,” protested Eileen.

“Well use one of the other cast members–surely they must have some idea?”

“Okay, I’ll have to do some quick recasting.” She quickly conferred with Sharon who was equally concerned. “Well have to use one of the angels.”

“Who? They’re all like wooden tops.”

They asked each of the angels to repeat Mary’s lines and all of them fluffed them.

“That’s it then, we’ll have to cancel–call it an act of God.” Eileen was feeling a mixture of relief and disappointment. She went to consult with the headmistress.

“You can’t cancel, we’ll have a hundred parents sitting in that hall in an hour’s time, find another Mary–it can’t be that difficult.”

“There is only one member of the cast who could do it.”

“Well use them then, or we’ll get lynched by a hundred hostile parents.”

“If that’s an order, okay, I will.” She hurriedly quit the headmistress’s office before any further questions could be asked. Then she went into the reception class where Sharon was trying to retain control over two lots of excited children.

“Charlie, could you come with me, please–oh and bring baby Jesus.”

A little later she called Charlie’s mother and said she hoped that she wouldn’t mind Charlie playing another part because one of the main characters had gone sick and she was having to re-jig everything to cover. There was no objection, his mother assuming he’d have to play Gabriel or Joseph.

Eileen’s suspicion that Charlie knew all the lines of all the characters was confirmed and she had him act out each one for him including Gabriel’s disclosure that Mary was in fact carrying the Christ and he also did the response from Mary.

Still clad in boy attire, Eileen read the other significant parts and asked Charlie to play the part of Mary. “But that’s a girl’s part.”

“Yes but I need your help just to see if we can improve things, you’re such a good actor. Will you help me?”

“Yes, Miss.”

“Thank you, Charlie, so you play the part of Mary and I’ll do the other parts.” She watched and the child was word perfect and his movements into the set positions on stage were better than Mollie who’d been practicing for three weeks. She might have been better for the part of the donkey, but that was unkind and Eileen quickly erased it from her mind but not before it had made her smile.

“Charlie, I need to ask you a huge favour.”

“Yes, Miss?”

“Look, Mollie has been taken ill, would you play the part of Mary. It’s a very important part and we need a good actor to do it. I’ve tried the other girls and none of them are as good as you. I know it’s a girl’s part but you, I think could do it. Would you do it for me?”

Charlie blushed, he wasn’t sure what to say. Part of him would love to play Mary but that would make him subject to teasing from the other kids when they spotted it. He was also pulled by his desire to help the teacher, he was a naturally helpful kid.

“Are you sure none of the girls can do it?” he asked feeling a little embarrassed.

“They could do it but none of them are as good as you. If you don’t do it, you can still be a shepherd but the play won’t be very good. If you do play Mary, I know you’ll be excellent and the play will be much better.”

“My dad won’t like it.”

“I’ll speak to him afterwards, and tell him how you saved the day. It takes a brave boy to do this.”

She watched the five year old wrestle with his conflicting emotions until he blushed once again and nodded.

“You’ll do it?”

“Yes, Miss,” he said very quietly while turning a delightful shade of crimson.

“Here put the costume on,” she dressed him in the long dress and the headscarf. He looked like a girl and prettier than Mollie would ever be. “Right you wait here with baby Jesus and I’ll go and get the rest of the cast, we’ve just got time for one more rehearsal.”

The teasing and jibes stopped when Eileen said that anyone who made fun of Charlie would be banned from their class parties next week and made to go home instead. As the children had been anticipating the parties with impatience having agreed which food they’d bring, jelly, ice cream, trifle, sandwiches, crisps and goodness knows what else, order was resumed quite quickly.

At the end of the rehearsal, Joseph said that Charlie was a better Virgin Mary than Mollie and the angel Gabriel agreed. It was a done deal.

Ten minutes later the children performing the play were taken off to an empty classroom and supervised by Sharon while the parents entered and found seats in the assembly hall.

The first item was a series of carols sung by all the children who weren’t performing in the play, who after their concert, which was accompanied by Mr Williams on the school piano, sat in three rows on the floor in front of the assembled parents.

Eileen Murphy walked to the centre front of the stage. “We now come to the highlight of the afternoon, the school nativity play. Before we start I’d like to point out that owing to illness amongst the cast, we’ve had to alter some of the main parts since this morning. Please be aware that the children have worked really hard to perform this piece of drama for your entertainment and have had to cope with last minutes changes to the casting. I hope you enjoy the Nativity.”

She walked to one side of the stage and narrated the introduction to the play. “About two thousand years ago, Caesar Augustus called for a census of the people of Judea and Gallilee. The poor people had to return to the towns of their birth to complete the census. Amongst these people were a young couple who were forced to make the journey to Bethlehem, the husband a carpenter was called Joseph and his wife, who was heavy with child, was named Mary...”

The lights dimmed and Joseph entered the stage pulling a small truck which had been disguised to look like a donkey on which sat the even more heavily disguised Charlie, with a cushion shoved up his dress.

“We’ll never get to Bethlehem at this rate, Mary,” complained Joseph, “I feel so tired.”

“I’m sure we will, husband,” offered Charlie, “we must comply with the law.”

“How is the baby?” asked Joseph.

Mary rubbed her tummy and said, “He’ll be fine and I’m sure he’ll be a good baby.”

At this point the entry of the Archangelic presence was announced by a bright spotlight and the rustling of wings and skirts as Gabriel appeared before the travelling pair.

“I am the Angel Gabriel and I bring glad tidings of great joy, for today in Bethlehem you Mary shall give birth to a baby whose name shall be Jesus the Christ, the son of God.” Taylor Minter, read from the scroll she carried and then as the light went out she nipped off stage ready to frighten the shepherds, who were now one less in number.

“We must press on,” urged Joseph and his wife nodded, before he trudged across the stage to disappear behind a curtain which concealed about a third of the space, pulling his wife behind him.

Next came the three wise men who discussed that they were lost and that King Herod hadn’t seemed to be such a bad chap after all. One of them spotted a large glowing star and they walked off towards it carrying their gifts for the new born king.

Enter three shepherds who sat down on the stage. “I hope there are no wolves about tonight, the flocks are very restless.”

Suddenly Gabriel bounced on to the stage again, her ballet shoes making little noise. “Fear not, for I bring you glad tidings of great joy,” read the seraph–according to the carols they did–“For today in the City of David is born the son of God.” Exit one angel wings vibrating as she slipped past the curtain.

“Goodness, we must go and worship this baby,” said shepherd number two with about as much emotion as a robot reading the football scores.

“We must take a lamb as a present,” suggested the third shepherd.

“Let us go,” said shepherd number one now with Charlie’s original line handed to him. Exit three shepherds.

“Who’s looking after the sheep?” asked a loud voice from one of the carollers sitting on the floor which caused a ripple of sniggers to run through the audience. ‘There’s always one,’ thought Eileen.

Charlie still sitting astride his mechanical donkey was wheeled into the stable. The innkeeper said, “We have no rooms but you can sleep in the stable if you wish.”

“Thank you, you are very kind,” said Joseph and he pulled his donkey plus wife behind the curtain once again.

“Wasn’t he very kind,” said a voice from the front of the audience again and was loudly hushed by someone sitting next to them.

From the shadows on the side of the stage, Eileen explained that Mary had been delivered of a baby who was ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.’ The curtain drew back to reveal the two new parents sitting with their new baby as mentioned in the manger before them.

“We shall call him Jesus,” announced Mary, “as the angel told us.”

Joseph nodded, and looked into the manger, “Hello, Jesus,” he said and the place erupted.

Enter the shepherds. “An angel told us to come and worship the new born king.”

“Yes, his name is Jesus,” said Charlie picking up the doll and handling it with great care, drew the baby to his breast holding it in the crook of his left arm. Eileen gasped, that wasn’t in the instructions but it looked so natural.

The three shepherds knelt before the mother and child and bowed their heads.

The three kings returned. “Is this the new born king?” asked Magi number one.

“This is the Christ child,” replied Mary.

“I bring gold.” The first magus placed his small chest supposedly containing gold onto the floor in front of the manger.

“I bring Frankenstein,” offered Magus two and was corrected by Mary while the audience erupted again. “Frankincense, I mean.” He laid a small package before the manger.

“I bring Myrrh,” said the last member of the wise men trio and placed his gift in front of the manger.

“This child will be an inspiration and guide to us all, blessed be His name,” announced Mary standing up as the rest of the cast knelt before her and her baby.

On this cue the children who had been sitting on the floor all rose up and walked to stand in front of the stage where they turned to face the audience of parents and older siblings. They then started to sing more carols to the accompaniment of the piano announcing the entertainment was over.

The audience applauded as the cast on stage bowed and Derek Watts clapping said, “I thought you said Charlie was in it?” To his wife who thought, ‘I’ll give that teacher change of roles.’

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