Christmas lessons

posted in: Hotel Lessons | 1


We are a small group at present – just five Iranians, including Hamed – and me.  So it was a special joy to welcome back two old faces, Ali (though actually he had made a relatively brief appearance a couple of weeks ago – and Abdulaziz.  The last time I had seen him, I was sure the news had been that he had been turned down for refugee status, but either that was wrong, or at least premature, or has changed – his English was still not good enough to clarify the situation.

But after our regular brief chat about the state of the world, in particular how it pertains to them, I moved on to a more practical task.  I explained that for many English children, their first experience of theatre is the Nativity play, so I proposed that we should perform our own.  We did have a discussion first about the relationship of Christianity and Islam, and to establish that I would not be committing some sin of blasphemy, since, as with the version of the story performed in primary schools, I did not intend to be too reverent.  Ali was the Angel Gabriel (or Jabril) who made the announcement to Mary (inevitably, as the only female there, played by Fatehas) who then had to explain the situation to her intended husband, Joseph.  As the offended patriarch, Hamed was very funny, playing a scene which most Nativity plays choose to ignore, but in time he was brought to acceptance, and then he, Mary and Abdulaziz as the donkey, made the short journey (two circuits of the room) to Bethlehem.

I had explained already that the scene with the innkeeper was the comic highlight of the tale, and so it turned out to be, with Roji producing a trio of different innkeepers, only the last of which proved to be most accommodating, even insisting that it was fine if the donkey was accommodated in the stable too.  We were somewhat hampered by a lack of numbers when it came to the shepherds and wise men (though having the shepherds wash their socks rather than watch their flocks was a nice touch.)

We still had time to introduce them to that other staple of Christmas theatre, the panto.  After going through some of the more arcane panto traditions – the cross-dressing, the audience participation, the fact that it was not, despite the name, in mime, I set them loose on Cinderella (largely, it has to be said, because I was pretty rock-solid on the story, but also because it gave the opportunity for two pantomime dames rather than one; I shall not quickly forget Roji and Hamed as the ugly sisters, most particularly their dancing with the Prince (Danyal) at the ball.

It made for a most enjoyable session.  Everyone had taken part with great good humour, and Fahime had proved a good sport.  It had actually, despite the lack of props, costumes, etc etc, been a splendid introduction to the Christmas season.

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