This year’s Wintershall Nativity Play, at Wintershall near Guildford, is likely to be even more successful than its predecessors. The compelling James Burke-Dunsmore, playing Herod, evokes a chilling malice when ordering the murder of the children, and telling his men to “put hurt and hate into what you do”. He utters a wicked line, suggesting that the Jewish people were ungrateful to him: “I brought you Jews to nationhood … I own your souls.”
The amateur actors (James Burke-Dunsmore is the only professional) also deliver strong performances. The Three Kings display reverence and devotion, and offer a striking physical theatre. Philip Street succeeds in transmitting the Magis’ devotion, especially with his line: “We have discovered God’s son on earth … my despair is lifted … I feel new hope.”
Ivan de Klee, son of the play’s producer and the grandson of Peter Hutley, who adapted the script from the New Testament, plays Caspar. His pained gait conveys physical exhaustion after his long journey, but like the other actors playing the Magi he is rejuvenated after witnessing the Son of God.
The kings have a notable impact on Annie Burnford as the innkeeper. She vividly communicates her astonishment: “They said they were kings, they wanted to see the King of Kings!”
Evangelically, all this has a clear impact on the audience, which is also a congregation. I spoke to some of the company of the Nativity, who told me: “People who won’t go through a church door come to Wintershall. It’s a brilliant way to evangelise. You get the odd moment when they believe it … and you can feel a collective intake of breath.” They said that after witnessing Wintershall, it was hard to study the Bible without imagining the play that they had performed. And I agree with them.
This production should sow a deep and fruitful seed in the most barren of soils. Even the Guardian, hardly an advocate of all things Catholic, said it was “a refreshing antidote to the rampant glitz”.
This should be no surprise. The actors begin the performance outside a barn on the Hutley family estate at Wintershall. They then process inside the barn, where the production is enhanced by live horses, donkeys, music – and a real baby.
This year’s performances will run from December 14 to December 18. Visit wintershall-estate.com