Nativity! The Musical: The festive family favourite you need to see this Christmas

Claire Schofield chats to Leeds actress Sarah Earnshaw prior to her first Leeds performance in Nativity: The Musical, opening at Leeds Grand Theatre on 20 December.

There are certain films that have become staple viewing during the Christmas period.

From Home Alone and Elf, to Love Actually and Die Hard, the festive season is always greeted with the same batch of entertainment, but one of the more recent additions to our essential seasonal digest is the Nativity! film series.

After proving to be such a hit following its release in 2009, the heart-warming story about an under-achieving primary school teacher and his attempt to deliver a Nativity production fit for Hollywood struck such a chord that it has now been transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing stage musical, and will be wending its merry way into Leeds for a three week run from 20 December.

Brought to the stage by Debbie Isitt (creator of the films), the production promises to deliver all of the fun, laughs and charm from the big screen and it’s a show Leeds actress, Sarah Earnshaw,  playing the role of Jennifer, can’t wait to bring to her home town.

“I’m loving it so far and I’ve just been getting to grips with taking the show on the road, because obviously every venue is different, so we have to adapt accordingly to each theatre,” she says.

“All of the audiences respond differently in different places which is always interesting, but generally people are up on their feet at the end of the show and really responding and enjoying it, so that’s been brilliant and we’re having a really great time.”

Whilst the production has been hugely well received at venues around the country, Sarah is expecting the Leeds crowds to be the highlight of the tour.

“Leeds will definitely be a highlight for me, one hundred percent,” she says.

“The Leeds crowds are always amazing, but I always find that the northern venues are slightly louder – they get more subdued as you go further down south, but up here everyone’s always very enthusiastic!”

Sarah Earnshaw

Having begun her theatre career at the tender age of six, starring in a pantomime at City Varieties, Sarah has gone on to star in many major productions, including Wicked and Spamalot, and returning to home turf is the perfect way to celebrate Christmas.

“I started off watching theatre at The Grand Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse and it’s where I started wanting to learn everything about it, so it’s so nice to be able to return home and actually be doing what I always dreamed of doing,” she explains.

“I think when you’re a kid you think that anything is possible, but I did always hope I’d be treading the boards of The Grand one day.”

In keeping with the film, the stage production promises to be both uplifting and wonderfully comical, although audiences should expect plenty of surprises along the way.

“What’s been really interesting about this process as opposed to any other musical that I’ve done is that we have quite a lot of freedom when we’re creating the show and we’ll improvise a lot during our scenes,” explains Earnshaw.

“Simon Lipkin (Mr Poppy) improvises every night and sometimes he might ask the kids to do different things which they then have to respond to in the moment, so that creates real, genuine comedy.

You never quite know what’s going to happen, even though we are sticking within the structure that we’ve created, so it becomes really free and fun.”

And while the unpredictable elements are sure to bring about a few laughs, Sarah admits it’s the children who undoubtedly steal the show.

“They are the heart and soul of the whole thing and they’re just brilliant at it,” she says.

“Every day backstage, they’re so full of fun and it actually makes it more enjoyable for us because they’re having such a good time, it just ends up rubbing off on the rest of us older people!

They’re just eight and nine years old and they have such a reality about them – they’re real kids, not stage school kids who have done hundreds of shows before.

They’re just normal children who happen to be great at singing and dancing, and are just really funny. That’s exactly the essence Debbie (director) wanted to capture and I think she’s done that perfectly.”

And the non-stop laughter and fun looks set to continue for Earnshaw, who will be gearing up to take on another iconic role in the new year, portraying Betty in the stage adaptation of Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em.

“I have two weeks off after we finish in Leeds and then I’m going straight into rehearsals for that, so no rest for the wicked!” she laughs.

“It will be very different and I loved the TV show, so again it’s quite a scary role to take on because it’s so iconic and something that people just love, but I’m really looking forward to it.”


Nativity! runs until 6 January. Tickets available online now: