Saturday, 12 June 2021

School friends planning a nativity with a difference

School friends planning a nativity with a difference

THREE young friends who first met as schoolboys at the Oratory have announced plans to put on a Christmas show with a difference at the Kenton Theatre.

Jack Maple, whose parents Janey and Philip live in Gravel Hill, hit the headlines in May last year when aged just 20 he became the youngest theatre producer in West End history — a distinction he still holds.

Now 22, he has teamed up with actor pals Alexander Knott and Luke Frost, also both 22, to stage a play that was originally written for them by one of their English teachers.

Billed as a hilarious festive farce and “the greatest story never told!”,
A Christmas Tale is coming to the theatre in New Street on Sunday, December 10. Two performances are planned — at 3pm and 7.30pm — with tickets priced £20.

With this year’s Kenton panto Robin Hood due to start its run just five days later, the three friends hope their show will prove the perfect festive curtain-raiser.

Set not in Palestine 2,000 years ago but in Derbyshire in 1978 during the dark days of the Winter of Discontent, A Christmas Tale tells the story of ordinary folk living through the extraordinary events of one Christmas Eve at the Star Hotel in Buxton.

Heavy snow has fallen, the pantry is empty and there’s no room at the inn. Meanwhile, the Shepherds have set up camp, the Angels have landed and the Kings are stuck in traffic... In the middle of the night, a babe is born, and as they depart quietly the next morning with their newborn son, Mrs and Mrs Carpenter leave gifts for those people who have helped them — gifts which have a transformative and healing effect on their recipients and bring home to them the true meaning of Christmas.

Jack said: “A Christmas Tale is a brand new play that was originally written for us in our final year at the Oratory and I’m delighted that after workshops and development it will be making its professional debut at the Kenton. We’re all local boys, so it felt only right that we bring it home for its debut.”

Since leaving the Oratory, Alexander and Luke have both trained as actors — Alexander at Italia Conti in London and Luke at the University of Plymouth, where he studied theatre and performance.

Both will be reprising their original roles in the production which, as Jack recalls, was written by his two friends’ then housemaster, Dr Tony Stroker.

“He was our English teacher and on the first day of our final year he came to see us and said ‘I’ve written this play for you — this is my gift to you for your help with the theatre and supporting us here at the school.’

“And so we did it [the play] — I think it was nine weeks later — and it was really quite funny. It went really well. It was only the one performance but it sold out. Did very well.”

Although Jack acted in the original production, he has decided to take a back seat this time around.

“I was in the cast when we did it at school but I’ve stepped away from that now. I thought about maybe going back and doing it again but it’s not for me — I’m quite happy to be the producer who’s sat in the stalls, you know?”

So how did he and his friends alight on A Christmas Tale as their latest project?

“It was Luke, actually.” says Jack. “Luke went to Dr Stroker after we left [the Oratory] and said, ‘I think we should keep this — can I buy the rights from you?’ So he bought the rights and now two years later these guys have graduated and I’ve just started producing so it made sense for us to do it now and see if we have something there.

“We’re going to tour it next year, but we needed somewhere to try it out and the Kenton’s the perfect place to do so. Dr Stroker is rewriting it for us as well — he’s added some scenes to bring it up to about an hour and a half. So now it’s a proper two-act full-on comedy, which should be really good.”

Alexander, who hails from Goring, is equally enthusiastic about the play’s potential.

“Luke and I play an old married couple who run the pub where the action is set. So I’m sort of an older northern publican who’s been running this hotel and pub for 30 years. Luke plays my wife who is a very strong-willed, demanding, difficult ‘my way or the highway’ sort of person.”

While the production’s eight-strong cast is already in place, the three friends will be recruiting a director to help shape the production.

Luke, whose family live in Wargrave, says: “At first we thought we might direct because we know the show and also it was written for us — so we know it’s our kind of humour. It was written about us, really. The characters we play are, you know, the characters we played at school. That’s what we were!”

Having himself been given opportunities in the theatre world at a young age, Jack says they would like the job to go to a recent graduate.

“It’ll be a young upstart,” he says. “We don’t want anyone flashy — you know, we don’t have the money for anyone flashy, but it’s a very particular kind of humour that we need to pin down.

“It’s very Henley-orientated — people will love it. It’s very cleverly written and witty but with a real heart to it, which is actually quite nice. It’s not panto, it’s not The Mousetrap, it’s some weird thing in the middle — but I think it’s going to be rather fun and we’re really looking forward to putting it on here in Henley.”

• Tickets for A Christmas Tale can be booked by calling (01491) 575698. For more information, visit

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