A Nativity play that has been performed for nearly 60 years will this year welcome only its fifth Joseph – and its first change of director.
The Aldermaston York Nativity Play will be performed at the church of St Mary’s in Aldermaston from Thursday, December 4 to Sunday, December 7. Based on a 14th century York Mystery Cycle play, the play is a village tradition where parts are almost family legacies, held on to with great affection and joy.
This is the first year since its foundation in 1957 that it is being directed by someone other than its founder. Chris Boott has stepped up after the passing of Pat Eastop OBE in September.
Dave Shirt, from St Mary’s, said: “Pat devised and guided the play for over half a century and this play is one of her many legacies. These days legacy is spoken of too lightly but Pat has her own chapter in the history of Aldermaston and has left a true gem for its future generations to take part in and to enjoy.
” Pat asked Chris to shadow her as director of the play in March this year to ensure the future of the play. Chris has lived in Aldermaston for 21 years and been in the play’s choir for all that time.”
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Chris has a theatrical background – for many years he has been a member of Reading’s Sainsbury Singers, directing three musicals and having starring roles in others. In 1996, Chris created the Aldermaston Players theatre company which performs dinner theatre evenings each year at the Parish Hall and a summer outdoor production. This year was a picnic pantomime – Treasure Island.
Another change to the play this year is the casting of a new Joseph – only the fifth in the 58 years. Philip Hull has taken the role from Nick Caiger-Smith and steps up from his previous part as a choir member.
Dave said: “Philip’s long tenure in the choir means he has witnessed three of the four previous Josephs. In his opinion they were all different, but each provides an ingredient to Philip’s own interpretation of this pivotal role.”
A retired history teacher from Theale Green, Philip was a teaching colleague of Pat Eastop and teacher to several members of the cast.
Also appearing in the show are three generations of one family. The Woodley family have been part of the cast since the very first performance, when Charlie Woodley was the third Shepherd. Now, five members of the extended family are taking part as Calum Bush joins as an acolyte. He joins Les Woodley (Third Shepherd for the 51st year) son of Charlie, Barry Woodley (Second Shepherd) brother to Les, Kerry Thomas (Anna) daughter of Barry, Melony Bush (First Handmaid) niece to Les and Barry.
The family connections continue: Melony’s mum, Jenny Franklin, played a Handmaid for many years; Mark and Matthew Les’s sons and Craig Barry’s son have all been acolytes.