Alone in her classroom, far too late to be at work, Mrs Clarke frowns at the cast list. The infants school nativity play is a stressful occasion and the casting of the parts requires the skill and negotiation of a senior politician.
Some parts are easier than others. Arthur, for example, will have to be the narrator. He’s too vocal about his opinions for a minor role (bossy, Mrs Clarke thinks to herself, the boy is bossy) but he’s mature enough to be content with something that gives him plenty of lines without being one of the obvious roles. No problem with reading in public either. Meanwhile Ned, bless him, will be the donkey. He’s been practising braying for weeks. John Childermass for the innkeeper. He’ll do a nice comic turn, grumpily offering the stable. She scribbles a note about finding him a beard to wear with the traditional robe and tea towel.
Now for the more difficult part: Mary. It’s hard to ask any young boy to play the girl. They are already old enough for society to teach them to be embarrassed about it. Mrs Clarke could say a lot of forthright things about that but the fact remains. So it has to be one of the boys who is well behaved enough to go along with it but someone confident enough to stand up to any teasing. Someone small too, for the aesthetics next to Joseph. Colley, she thinks. He’s a sweet boy but utterly stubborn if necessary. She thinks she can trust him with the role.
The only difficulty will be with her casting choice for Joseph. Jonny Strange is the obvious choice: good at acting, not at all shy in public which is good because he has quite a few lines, and is a nice contrast to small, blonde Colley. Both of them can sing in tune too, which will help with the inevitable chorus of Away in a Manger. The only problem is, the boys hate each other. She’s not quite sure what caused the rift. Something about who’d been round to Arthur’s house for tea and a further falling out over a toy farm. They haven’t been speaking for weeks and there was that final altercation in the playground which ended in both sets of parents called in.
Mrs Clarke stares at the list. There really isn’t any other way to do it. There’s nobody else to fill those two roles quite so well. She sighs and assigns a few shepherds, kings and sheep before she can change her mind. John Segundus as first shepherd: it’ll do him good to take centre stage for a bit.
Now for Gabriel. She can’t quite keep the smile off her face as she pencils in William’s name. He’s going to be a nightmare but he’s also going to be perfect. Blessed with an angelic face that belies the little devil underneath, he’s bold enough to wear the wings and tinsel well. Besides, if she gives him this part hopefully he’ll be busy enough to stay out of trouble and he’ll be under her watchful eye if he’s not.
Work done, she reads the list one more time. Mary and Joseph primed for a fight and William as Gabriel. There’ll be tears by opening night. Mrs Clarke laughs and tucks the list away in a folder. At least it will keep things interesting.