Straight off the bat, I’ll admit that I went to the Royal Court on a Thursday evening, in the height of winter, with some very deliberate preconceptions about what The Scouse Nativity was… For the sake of this review, I’m going to informally dub it ‘Scativity’.
I’m from Liverpool, I live in Liverpool, but I’m fairly removed from it – I gaze from the outside in on the virtues of Scouse culture. I don’t know what a Ket Wig is, I think the Baltic Market is very average and I don’t enjoy engaging with Blood Brothers 8 million times a year. But Scativity was different. I think, somewhere deep down in my (frankly unwholesome) subconscious, I connected with Scativity for its appreciation of self-degradation and bitter ironicisms*. I could see myself, and maybe I could finally understand what it means to be Scouse.
Big words aside, here’s what I made of my journey into the unknown.
The first act was lively and riddled with dick jokes, and that’s honestly what I deem as a core value of good theatre. The narrative isn’t worth mentioning because your years of forced upon Christianity has permanently routed the story arc into your head. Scativity came with a bonus adult twist that firmly restructured your primary school manger scene.
It can make you cringe a little, but not the embarrassing kind of cringe. The cringe that makes you thirst for a little bit more. The cringe that is your aunty flirting with you despite her being (I think, I can never tell) a blood relative. She’s drunk and it’s awkward but it’s worth listening to. Cal McCrystal teaches us a thing or two about what it means to be disgustingly hilarious.
… Which I definitely did, though for a good portion of the performance I had to rely on an interpreter (from Huyton) to truly understand Lindzi Germain, who, masterfully taking on the role of narrative stimulator (in the form of an Angel on strings), has an accent thicker than leftover Christmas gravy that gets more suspicious with every reheat.
Sometimes I got it, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes the jokes landed, sometimes they didn’t. I like to think that this was the intention – and I’m putting my faith into the assumption that it was, in which case, they ‘smashed it’. Look Dad, I did a Scouse. No, I won’t go the match.
The jokes that landed were very sharp, and the punchlines were often in physicality and movement – something I rarely go for – but this was different. The physicality was almost like counter physicality. The jokes worked because, on the whole, they didn’t actually work. This got a little heavy-handed after a while, but something fresh came along every now and then to spark it up a little. So credit is surely due to director, Cal McCrystal.
But I couldn’t help but want something more at times. Taking something a little bit further, playing with ideas and putting them through a tougher development process. As much as I enjoyed a bloke flashing his arse to a Desmond Dekker tune – I felt like three minutes of this just wasn’t enough, and felt a little exhausted after about 30 seconds. But I’m not sure if these exhaustions were in the writing or not – my guess is that they were, because they rang true with the written jokes; often they were quick and rough around the edges, but at other times they either fell into the ether of lost jokes, or they were repeated or explained to death. If you need to actually say the punchline to your joke, then you’ve set it up badly – place trust in the intelligence of your audience!
The cast came as a massive shock to me, as I seriously wasn’t expecting such a high caliber performance or work ethic. The whole show looked physically demanding, and the voices of every single performer astonished me. Underappreciated musicians, that made every effort to develop and flesh out their characters – each with their own unique set of quirks that made their characters easy to attach to. I was particularly impressed with the vocals from Hayley Hampson (Mary) and Stephen Fletcher (Jerry), who I feel carried a lot of the more nuanced jokes.
Would I recommend Scativity? I think so. Despite me not being the intended audience, I got a lot out of it. It’s not perfect, but Cal McCrystal (I assume) never intended for it to be perfect. It squeezes out the laughs at the right moments, and it knows its audience very well.
There is a Jeremy Kyle parody towards the end that really wasn’t for me, but it went down so well with the audience, which if anything, made me feel like I was the odd one out. Maybe I should be reviewing myself…
It’s cheap, cheerful and a good night out during the holiday season, even for a miserable Grinch like me.
*not really sure if ironicism is a word, but I’ll keep it… I’m practically Shakespeare.