Audacious Christmas show goes where angels fear to tread

As Monty Python discovered with The Life of Brian, a whimsical work adapted from the scriptures can expect a negative reaction from certain quarters.

Maybe the sensitive issue of blasphemy is why, for some time, the Royal Court's executive producer Kevin Fearon had deliberated on doing a take on the story of Christ's birth for the theatre's annual Christmas comedy musical without actually getting round to it.

Maybe he also thought if you're finally going to do something properly, you do it yourself. 

Which is what he's done by writing this very alternative, very Liverpudlian but, most importantly, very, very, funny tale of not so wise men - and women - and the Son of God.

It's a quickfire hoot from start to finish

Those familiar with the Court at Christmas shows will know that though the "he's behind you" panto principals are loosely followed they are  strictly NOT for kids.

And thank the Lord for that!

So what we get is a plot that spins around the "Angela" Gabriel (the wonderfully bombastic Lindzi Germain) periodically floating about the stage like a party balloon trying to gain her wings by bringing together Jesus's mum and dad Mary and Joseph (LIPA graduates Hayley Sampson and Stephen Fletcher, both of whom are blessed with excellent singing pipes).

Trying to drive a wedge between them is the nefarious Herod (Paul Duckworth), who has designs of his own on Mary.

Nevertheless, despite his machinations, the miracle child is born and that's about it really barring a second half of inspired lunacy revolving around an estranged Mary fighting to save their marriage on the Jeremiah Kyle Show.

In between, however, it's a quickfire hoot from start to finish deftly moved along by Belfast's Cal McCrystal, comedy director for National Theatre's West End/Broadway hit One Man, Two Guvnors.

The set design too is an absolute wowser in terms of originality bordering on the genius by Mark Walters, a massive pop-up book that switches from stables to desert backdrop, to a street scene complete with Cheeses of Nazareth shop sign.

And, of course, the tight knit cast of Royal Court favourites - including the dancing camels -  this year supplemented by the theatre's community choir, bring the house down with a snappy script loaded with ad-libs.

As usual it's Drew Schofield, primarily a cheeky scally shepherd called Terry, then later a perfect Kyle impersonator, who is central to this off-the-cuff stuff.

He is joined on this pedestal, however, by Duckworth's brilliant Herod. It's a mix between Abanaza and Boy George, complete with maniacal laugh, before morphing into an evil Manc landlord, a grotesque mirror image of Liam Gallagher, telling "all you Scousers to fuck off" delivered with the customary hands-behind-his-back stance.

With such incidents it's unsurprising that The Scouse Nativity earns a high rating on the Court's own Granny-o-meter for the sensitive. They may take special offence at the baby delivery scene which involves, among other things, a huge Christmas tree (I'll say no more) and the Baby Jesus himself who looks remarkably like Zippy from Rainbow.

From this seat, though, it proved to be an all round Immaculate Conception.