Oh no, not more blooming shepherds, I thought, when grandson told me that year 1’s Christmas play was ‘about sheep, gran’. Ok, ok, but as a veteran of at least 10 years of school nativities, I make no apology for coming over a bit Ebenezer Scrooge at the prospect of yet another one. ‘And I’m a townsperson,’ grandson added and launched into a song with a lot of ‘hustle bustles’ in it – well, that did sound a bit different. But how would the townspersons meet the sheep, I wondered – maybe therein lay the drama of the piece – you can but hope. My daughter gave me my ticket – Hey Ewe, it announced, An Infant Nativity. Very witty, I suppose, but would it be the hip-hop version as per OutKast’s Hey Ya or a retro Beatles one á la Hey Jude? (cool gran or what?). Well, it wasn’t all that clear from the preview grandson gave me when he sat me down and went through the whole thing, speaking parts, songs, actions ‘n all – you have to admire his enthusiasm. It seemed to be a sheep’s eye view of the nativity – one lone sheep among many, baa-ing at the moon saying over and over again ‘Something’s going on, I can feel it,’ but no-one was listening and I know what that feels like. I guess it should’ve come with a spoiler alert but, let’s face it, I knew what happened in the end anyway.
When my daughter and I arrived in the school hall in the morning the sheep were already centre stage though the performance hadn’t started yet. A flock of sheepy onesies (and of sundry other furry creatures) were about to have their moment in the spotlight, although I did notice an artistic home-crafted sheep’s head mask on someone’s head – well, there’s always one, isn’t there? Townspersons didn’t require a costume so grandson came as himself basically – phew – after c. 10 years of scouring Harlow for green tights for elves and tutus for snowflakes etc for his three big sisters, his mum was getting off lightly this time. Then, there he was, hustle-and-bustling away with other townpersons hacking at the ground with an imaginary pick. ‘No, gran,’ he told me later, ‘I wasn’t digging, I was picking up a sack and putting it over my shoulder.’ Whatever – but he did, of course, give it his all, as they say on Strictly.
Then, oh dear, the townspersons exit-ed stage right and sat down almost out of sight on the floor, but I could just see grandson’s mouth still moving. Oh goodie, I thought, they’ve given him the role of prompt. But no, my daughter said, they had to act chatting – rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb and the like to create a hustle-bustly backdrop. Meanwhile, grandson’s teacher was on keyboards, swaying along to the rock(ish) songs, not quite head banging, but just a tiny bit Guns ‘n Roses – maybe he’s in a heavy metal band in his spare time. I asked him later, ‘No,’ he said, smiling sheepishly (of course), ‘but I used to play the organ in church’. Oh.
Granddaughter 3 had told me that years 5 and 6’s play was to celebrate 800 years since the Magna Carta. But what’s Christmassy about that? It sounded like a solemn historical affair to me. She was one of four Saint Georges – hm, I thought there was only one and was he around for the signing of the Magna Carta? But, hey ho, history was never my strong point, maybe I should just go with the flow. ‘So there’ll be dragons,’ I’d said, perking up. ‘No, gran,’ she replied, ‘it’s a mummers’ play and I fight a Turk.’ Gosh, that didn’t sound very Peace and Goodwill-ish to me. But mummers are Christmassy, aren’t they? Or are they something to do with a maypole? Oh god, I certainly wouldn’t pass a British citizenship test.
Granddaughter 3’s dad and I arrived at the school that evening and, Lo, the hall had been – no, not decked with holly – but transformed into a theatre in the round. Granddaughter 3 had given detailed instructions about where to sit so we would see her best side, that is, her front rather than her back. On the programme, hurrah, it explained about mummers – they ‘performed at the court of the monarch in Medieval Britain’. Ok, fine, but I’m a bit sketchy about when things medieval started and when they ended. Was the Magna Carta medieval? It sounds a bit Roman to me and wasn’t that BC? Anyway, the four Saint Georges and some medieval knights trooped into the round. But hang on a minute, who were the people in top hats in amongst the knights? They looked like fugitives from Oliver Twist – mates of the Artful Dodger, perhaps? And wasn’t Dickens in the 1`9th century? But there was granddaughter 3’s front resplendently clothed in a carefully crafted cape, a red Father Christmas coat turned inside out (necessity, or maybe desperation, being the mother of invention). She was brandishing a foam rubber sword (the plastic one from Poundland or Tesco’s being veto-ed on health and safety grounds), a bit like Luke Skywalker and his lightsaber in Star Wars 1 in the 1970s. Soon her own Personal Turk (as Depeche Mode might sing) fell to the ground – oh nooo! But, what’s this? The top-hatted folk turned out to be doctors who cured the Turks who all leapt up (like in The Force Awakens, the new Star Wars film, perhaps) and there was Peace on Earth – Ding dong merrily etc etc! But then I dimly remembered, wasn’t there something called the Enlightenment when such medical advances began and wasn’t that after the medieval bit and before Dickens? I was confused – it doesn’t take much these days. But, most importantly, granddaughter 3, foam rubber sword raised menacingly aloft, addressed the audience with authority, power and panache – like Laurence Olivier rallying the troops in that film of Henry the Fifth back in the day.
So once again the Christmas plays are done and dusted, like the dinners on Dinner Date, and exhausted children and their parents up and down the land are limping towards the Christmas holidays. And I’m thinking, a bit gloomily, next year granddaughter 3 will be at secondary – no Christmas plays there, just Dickensian grind and graft. What do they say? All work and no play…? Bah humbug! What a world. As for me, I need to brush up on my history – I’m off to read the Doomsday Book. Merry Christmas.
*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.