As a gesture of seasonal good-will I’m making this specially written nativity play licence-free, should any schools wish to stage it as an alternative to the standard mangery affair.
SCENE 1: INTERIOR, PALACE OF CAESAR AUGUSTUS [You can recreate the opulence of classical Rome with a few rolls of gold wrapping paper and some tinsel. If you’ve got a couple of pasty kids who don’t like acting then make them togas from white sheets and have them in the background as statues]
EMPEROR AUGUSTUS LIES ON HIS CHAISE LONGUE [2 dinner tables pushed together with a rug over them] HIS TRUSTED ADVISOR, GASPAR, ENTERS
NARRATOR 1: Behold the mighty palace of Caesar Augustus, ruler of the Roman <mumble, mumble, cries>
GASPAR: Hail, Caesar!
AUGUSTUS: Hi, Gaspar. How’s it hanging?
GASPAR: You summoned me oh mighty Augustus, father of the Roman Empire, ruler of the world, god incarnate, champion of the people, bringer of prosperity, hero of the senate and founder of a nice hot month when all the kids are off school.
AUGUSTUS: Did I? <Pause> Ah, yes, I’m going to order a census of all the known world, for the purposes of taxation. As my wisest advisor could you sort of, you know, make that thing I just said happen?
GASPAR: This will be a mighty task, Caesar. This is the latest population estimate [Unrolls lengthy parchment with ‘MMMMMMMMMM…’ written on it. There should be about 56,800 Ms, but the audience probably won’t count, so don’t sweat it] Surely you don’t wish me to divert my efforts from my current task of finding a counting system which isn’t bloody stupid.
AUGUSTUS: With a stronger tax base you will have more funds for your mathematical nonsense, Gaspar, as sure as II + II = IV. Also this is 1 BC, next year we flip over to 1 AD, unless you come up with a well-defined concept of zero before New Year’s eve, and I think a big census is the sort of thing we should do to mark this historic calendar change.
GASPAR (sighing): Very well, Caesar. I shall organise census-takers to travel the length and breadth of Europe, North Africa and the Middle-East counting people, assessing the value of their properties, farms and simple iron-age businesses. You shall have your taxes, mighty Caesar!
AUGUSTUS: Actually, I’ve come up with a rather clever idea that may make this census a lot easier for you, dear Gaspar. What if we made the people travel?
GASPAR: Well, Caesar, my census takers will really need to see how much land they own, the size of their farms, the…
AUGUSTUS (Interrupting) : I haven’t told you the clever bit yet…what if we make them trace their male ancestry back 1,000 years and travel to the city that their family lived in then?
GASPAR: Wise Caesar, had you perhaps had a few wines when you came up with this plan? It would cause chaos across the whole Empire; millions of people displaced, a complete cessation of all economic activity, people being forced to travel thousands of miles and almost no records that would allow us or them to check they’d got it right. It’s possibly the worst way ever to organise a census!
AUGUSTUS: You’re pretty lippy given that I can have you torn apart by wild horses on a whim, and “due process” would just be checking that the ropes were tied tightly enough. Do you know something I don’t?
GASPAR: Well, sire, I’ve been meaning to bring this up for a while…but you died in 14BC. I really just keep popping in to humour you.
AUGUSTUS: Died? Surely not. King Herod was saying only yesterday how well I looked.
GASPAR: He’s not exactly impartial in this matter, Caesar – he died four years ago.
AUGUSTUS: Herod? Really? That’s terrible…the kids will be devastated.
GASPAR: Indeed they were.
AUGUSTUS: But my mind is made up. Organise my census and tell Governor Quirinius to really hammer those, um, “Zionists” in Judaea. I’m sick of them secretly controlling the world…that’s my job.
GASPAR: Yes, sire, just as soon as we appoint him – in 6 years’ time – I’ll tell him to get on the job.
AUGUSTUS: So I’m dead, Herod’s dead, Quirinius isn’t a governor yet and my plan’s crazy? This nativity thing is harder to organise than it sounds, isn’t it?
GASPAR: Quite so, Caesar, and I also plan to take a few months’ leave. I’ve been offered the opportunity to appear on “I’m a wise man, get me out of here” and I need to follow my star.
NARRATOR 2: And so it was that the Emperor Augustus ordered a census of all the known world, as told in the Gospel of Luke…other religions are also available.
[Children sing O’Little Town of Bethlehem while Curtis from year 3, who can bench-press 200lbs, but can’t be trusted to speak or sing, moves the scenery]
SCENE 2: INTERIOR OF JOSEPH AND MARY’S HOUSE IN NAZARETH [Wash the blood off year 2’s woodwork projects and sprinkle them round to show that Joseph is a carpenter]
NARRATOR 3: NAZARETH! <Faints>
JOSEPH (checking mail): Bill…bill…Ancient Carpenter Monthly…bill…letter from the Governor of Syria!
[Joseph opens and reads the letter]
JOSEPH: Gosh! According to this, Mary, the Governor of Syria has ordered us to travel to Bethlehem for a census. You’d better get your ass moving!
MARY: But Joseph, my sweet husband, we don’t live in Syria.
JOSEPH: Yeah, there’s small-print about this being a census of all the known world by some dead emperor.
MARY: But why must we travel all of the way to Bethlehem when I am so heavy with child?
JOSEPH: Because it is my ancestral city, Mary. For I am of the lineage of King David, unto whom God himself promised the land of Israel for all eternity.
MARY (crossly): Being of the line of King David doesn’t seem to do us any favours when we’re trying to scratch out a subsistence living as carpenters, does it…but when I need to trek 65 miles on a donkey with swollen ankles and piles like kippahs full of jam it’s a different story!
JOSEPH: I’m sorry, Mary, but even though you are heavily pregnant, and census-taking is against Jewish law and probably nobody would notice or care if we just didn’t bother, we must travel to Bethlehem immediately, for the Governor of a country we don’t live in has decreed it!
MARY (softly): This is about the angel again, isn’t it?
JOSEPH: NOBODY ELSE GETS PREGNANT BY ‘A MIRACLE’, MARY!
MARY: Why won’t you believe me, my beloved husband?
JOSEPH: Gosh, I don’t know. Why would you, a woman living in a society where the penalty for adultery is public stoning to death, lie to me, your betrothed, about how you’re pregnant without me getting a sniff, eh?
MARY: But, Joseph, did not my cousin, Elizabeth, become pregnant, even though her husband was too old and feeble for the marital act? Did she not give birth to John the Baptist?
JOSEPH: I think you may have misheard the ‘baptist’ bit, but…um…yeah, fair does; we’re both in the wrong. You shut up about Liz and I won’t mention the angel again.
MARY: We’ll be loving and trusting parents to our new child, Joseph. It will be wonderful.
JOSEPH: Right. Let’s get this Bethlehem thing done, and just hope that this is the last thing anybody ever says about this whole bloody affair.
NARRATOR 4: And so, for reasons best described as ‘wacky’, Joseph and Mary set off for Bethlehem.
[Children sing ‘Away in a manger’ while 4 teachers and a lunch-time supervisor try to get Curtis to stop throwing tables at the audience]
SCENE 3: EXTERIOR, NIGHT-TIME, BETHLEHEM [Which was built almost entirely of badly painted cardboard boxes]
MARY: This is hopeless, Joseph, we’re never going to find anywhere to stay. The town is flooded with travellers because tracing ancestry back 1,000 years has created an exponential growth in the number of people trying to get into major settlements of that period, and half the inn-keepers have buggered off somewhere else anyway, leaving no-one to run their hostelries.
JOSEPH: What are you talking about, woman? We could have had a room in that first place we tried.
MARY: Sure, the place with 1-star on Trip Advisor. Who the hell wants to give birth in a place that only gets one star?
JOSEPH (sighing): Right, I’ll ask someone…Excuse me, sir, do you know where we can find an inn with a room?
PASSER-BY: Sorry, mate, no good asking me. I’m a Gaul. I’m looking for a place myself.
JOSEPH: It’s a nightmare, isn’t it? The road from Nazareth was nose-to-tail; solid donkey as far as the eye could see.
PASSER-BY: You don’t have to tell me, pal – I came in on the Jerusalem road. Bloody dreadful it was. They’re only digging up half of it. Mile after mile with a 3mph speed limit.
JOSEPH: You used the Jerusalem road from Gaul? You must be crazy! What you should have done is follow the coast road down to Ashdod, then take a left and…
MARY: No hurry, Joe, but I am minutes away from delivering the son of God while sitting on a sodding donkey!
JOSEPH (to passer-by): Sorry, mate, better get going, but believe me, I’m as sick of this mass exodus of people from Syria as you are. It’s caused nothing but trouble for everybody.
PASSER-BY: Yeah. Still, at least they’re not bombing us, eh?
MARY: Look, Joseph! I think that inn up there is open!
JOSEPH: Right, come on, then.
NARRATOR 5: And so Joseph and Mary presented themselves at the ‘Britain First Western Hotel’ and knocked on the door.
[SFX: KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]
INN KEEPER: Whu?
JOSEPH: My wife and I have travelled many miles, she is heavy with child and we need rest and food.
INN KEEPER: You Muslins?
INN KEEPER: You look a bit Muslinish, what with the head-dresses and everything.
JOSEPH: We are simple travellers, looking for shelter. Can you find it in your heart to help us?
INN KEEPER: Travellers? You look more like economic migrants to me. <Looks at Mary> Here for a spot of free healthcare are you?
JOSEPH: We just need a room, please.
INN KEEPER: And you think it’s OK to get a room ahead of the hundreds of Bethlehemish who need somewhere to stay, do you? We send millions of whatever currency we use to your country and you still come over here, demanding that we all become Muslins and trying to impose Syria law! It’s because of people like you that we’re not allowed to celebrate Christmas yet!
MARY: Please, kind skinhead, we’re only here for the census and I am desperately in need of somewhere to deliver my child. We shall be on our way by the morning, which is already nearly upon us.
INN KEEPER: You married? Proper married, not some civil partnership crap?
JOSEPH: Of course!
INN KEEP: OK then, but just because I’m a bit tanked up on sherry. You can have the manger round the back, but leave it tidy!
JOSEPH: Thank you, sir. A blessing upon your house and your poorly spelled tattoos.
INN KEEP: Make the most of it, mate. I’m voting for Pontius Pilate’s UKIP lot next year and they’re going to close the borders, I can tell you.
MARY (sotto voce): I’m only giving this place one star as well. Nobody’s ever going to come here again, I tell you!
NARRATOR 6: And so it was that Mary’s child was born in a lowly-rated cattle-shed.
MARY (holding baby Jesus): I shall call him Jesus!
NARRATOR 7: Three shepherds came to visit
SHEPHERD 1: We followed a star to find this manger.
SHEPHERD 2: It was a nice break from our ‘Which mushroom tastes nicest’ test.
SHEPHERD 3: I can see the river of time carrying us all to the devouring frog at the end of eternity!
NARRATOR 7: And three wise men.
BALTHAZAR : I bring gold!
MELCHIOR: I bring frankincense!
GASPAR: I bring a growing dread this this is all somehow my fault.
NARRATOR 8: Christianity was born!
HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS, BISHOP OF THE HOLY SEE, VICAR OF CHRIST, HOLDER OF THE APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION, HEIR TO SAINT PETER’S THRONE, PRIMATE OF ROME, GOD’S REPRESENTATIVE ON EARTH AND LAIRD OF GLENCOE: You know this deal’s real ‘cos it has the Pope’s seal!
[The children, except for Curtis who is being tempted out the back-door by the caretaker armed with a protein shake on a stick, sing Ave Maria while parents check their phones and wonder if their ‘dentist appointment’ excuse is going to hold or if they’re going to have to stuff their cheeks with tissue to pull it off]
ALL CHILDREN: MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! DON’T FORGET TO BUY OUR LOVE BY GIVING US STUFF!
—- THE END —-