‘Away WITH The Manger’ in the newspapers

‘Away WITH The Manger’ is one of our most popular Christmas plays. In this blog, co-writer Stuart Ross writes about the publicity it’s been receiving.

Two years ago I released a Christmas play titled ‘Away WITH The Manger‘. The play had been lovingly crafted over a long five-year period and had originated from an idea by my 9-year-old daughter. She actually wrote the first few scenes including the first song which goes like this…

Away WITH The Manger Christmas Nativity Play
Away WITH The Manger Christmas Nativity Play

“Away with the manger, two robbers stole it,
They were called Bob and Bill and they were both big twits…”

The hilarious story then tells the tale of two bungling burglars who are on the run with a bag of stolen jewels. Through a strange turn of events, the jewels are hidden in the local school’s nativity manger and soon the comical crooks want them back! As the characters stage their school nativity play, mayhem ensues, but one thing is clear… crime doesn’t pay, as the crooks are eventually locked up. The play then finishes with a glorious nativity scene, with Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Wise Men, etc… reminding the audience of the true reason for the season.

‘Away With The Manger’ was an instant hit and has now been successfully performed in hundreds of schools. However, one thing we didn’t realise when publishing it, was that certain national newspapers had a different agenda…

On November 30th 2012, the Daily Telegraph ran a damaging and unfounded story with the headline, “Away with the manger: school replaces nativity with jewellery heist”! It claimed that parents in an Essex school were “outraged” because instead of performing the annual traditional nativity play, teachers were “MAKING children act out a politically correct jewellery heist.”

Within 24 hours several other papers including the Mirror, Express, Star and Mail had copied the story (more or less word for word) without checking ANY of the facts. Suddenly, our humble, honest Christmas nativity play had become public enemy number one.

At the time I was blissfully  unaware of the controversy and didn’t find out about it until a few weeks later, by which time it was too late to do anything to limit the damage.

There are several untruths which I feel compelled to respond to, but firstly it’s important to note that at no time did ANY journalist contact us, read the script or watch the play in any way, shape or form. It seems to me, that’s a bit like writing a damning restaurant review without actually tasting any food. In my opinion this was poor, lazy, sloppy journalism where the facts weren’t researched, just in case they got in the way of a good story. The journalists thought they were picking on a bunch of ‘politically correct’ teachers, when actually they were picking on my 9-year-old daughter.

This unprofessional journalism has had an impact on our business. We have definitely lost sales and as a result we seriously considered taking legal action. In the end we held back in order to protect my young daughter, who was not just the co-writer and inspiration behind the production, but who also sung on the CD. To this day, my daughter still doesn’t know anything about this whole situation and I’d prefer to keep it that way as she is very proud of ‘Away WITH The Manger‘, as she rightly should be.

My daughter is now sixteen so whilst still wanting to protect her, I feel that if she did find out about it now, she would take it a lot better than she would have done a few years ago. Therefore, whilst still trying to hide this particular blog from her, I feel that now is the right time to finally respond to the Daily Telegraph and the other papers with the following points:

1. The newspapers claimed that parentS were outraged, withdrawing their children from the production. Several times over, the articles give the impression that hundreds of parents were in uproar. In actual fact, the school concerned confirmed to me that there was only ever one single parent who complained. Furthermore, like the journalists, that particular parent hadn’t read the script and hadn’t been properly informed about the true nature of the play… that it actually does include the traditional nativity story.
The school did eventually perform ‘Away With The Manger‘ to rapturous applause and overwhelming support from all the parents. They received many letters complimenting them on the production, with many parents saying it was the best Christmas nativity play they had ever seen.

2. The papers mention a few times over that this is a “politically correct” Christmas play. However, anyone who has ever seen  ‘Away WITH The Manger‘ will tell you that there is absolutely nothing ‘politically correct’ about it! When you look closely at the newspaper articles it seems to indicate that the term ‘politically correct’ is repeatedly used in connection to the fact that we changed the words to the carol ‘Away IN A Manger’… as if we were somehow ashamed of the traditional song, not wanting to have anything religious in the play, replacing it with what they see as “modern words”. However, if you look at our full range of Christmas nativities you will see that ‘Away IN A Manger’ is actually our most recorded song, appearing on  a large number of products as a complete carol. Although it’s not in the ‘Away WITH The Manger‘ script, it IS in the accompanying production notes, advising teachers to consider adding the carol themselves. Furthermore, the play’s final song, ‘Glory, Glory’ is deeply religious. The song explains the whole nativity story in depth and repeats the chorus, “Glory, glory, celebrate the Saviour’s birth, Jesus is King over all the earth.”
Far from hiding the real reason for celebrating Christmas, our company policy is that every Christmas play we have ever produced always contains the traditional nativity story in one way or another. We don’t want to hide it and have in fact campaigned for every child to take part in a nativity at least once during their school lives.

3. According to the newspapers the traditional nativity story has been replaced by a “bizarre tale of violent robbers”! It then goes on to talk about the high crime rate in the school’s area following a spate of violent robberies. I have every sympathy for the victims of crime everywhere. My family and I actually live in a high crime-rate area, but there are a few important things to note here. Firstly and most importantly, there is absolutely NO depiction in the play of a violent robbery, or indeed of any kind of robbery. The play starts with the theft having already taken place and with the two bungling burglars on the run. There are absolutely NO guns, no knives and no weapons of any type. The characters of Bob and Bill are hardly the violent Kray twins, they’re more like the harmless Chuckle brothers! Secondly, as has already been explained above, the nativity isn’t replaced at all. The whole show actually finishes with a traditional nativity scene!
Whilst on this subject, it occurs to me that if you were to take the newspaper articles literally, then at Christmas you would have to ban from schools any type of play or story containing any violence or crime. But to do so, would surely mean banning  popular children’s books, plays and films like Oliver Twist, Home Alone and the Narnia books, never mind countless other examples! There’s also plenty of crime and violence in the Bible, even in the nativity story itself, with the murder of countless babies by King Herod! Strange then that I’ve not heard calls for any of these to be banned!

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to complain too much more in case we do ever decide to take legal action. Instead, I feel I ought to end with something positive . I therefore want to refer the journalists concerned to the many positive reviews we have received for ‘Away WITH The Manger‘.  Here are some of the best comments which can be seen on our website:

“We performed Away With The Manger at Christmas. The pupils clearly enjoyed this cleverly written play, with its up-beat songs and slapstick comedy. I’m sure I have never heard an audience laugh so much during a Nativity! The whole cast performed with great confidence and enjoyment. A hilarious production. Well done!” Mr Evans – Teacher

“Regarding ‘Away With The Manger’, we were absolutely thrilled that everyone enjoyed our play this year. Parents are still telling us they couldn’t stop laughing all the way through!!!” Phil – Headteacher

“Hi, my school performed ‘Away with the manger’ at Christmas. It went down a treat. The children loved rehearsing it. They all did an amazing job. Parents really enjoyed it. Got very positive comments from all who came to see it. It was hilarious. Songs were catchy and performance notes (staging ideas / suggestions) were great. Well done to all concerned… Thanks for such a brilliant play. Keep them coming!” N Lydon – Teacher

“We’re using Away With The Manger for our Y6 Christmas production this year. We’re nearly finished our rehearsals and I already know this could be the best one we’ve ever done. It really is VERY funny! The pupils love it too and always leave with a smile on their face. Can’t wait for the show in a few days.” Mrs E – Teacher

“Just a quick message to compliment you on Away With The Manger. We did it with a cast of 41 pupils aged 8-12 and the performance was Amazing! The story line was appropriate and witty and the music and songs were lovely. Well done! I look forward to purchasing from you again in the future. Kind regards and Merry Christmas.” Y Beattie -Teacher

“I bought a download copy of ‘Away with the Manger’ for my school’s Christmas play last year. It is a great show and we had a ball doing it. Lots of the teachers in my school use your plays, every year, to great success so thanks for all of your help.” S. Cunnane – Teacher

“Our school put on ‘Away With The Manger’ for parents last night. It was a HUGE SUCCESS! I thoroughly enjoyed it and particularly loved the nativity song in the finale. All teachers concerned praised the script for its humour and ease of production and the fact that there were so many ‘meaty’ parts in the script. Well done. I am looking forward to seeing and hearing your next composition because I hope to put on another of your nativity plays next year.” Aine Colleran – Teacher

“We have just performed Away WITH The Manger last week with the whole y6 and it was really, really excellent. The play was SO funny, it had the audience in hysterics and the music was wonderful. And for the first time we’ve had even had a number of letters of praise from parents. Just brilliant. Thank you so much.” Mrs P – Teacher