THERE is always that feeling of anticipation when you visit the theatre.

Sitting in your seat with a drink or packet of sweets waiting for the curtains to open. At The Eastgate Theatre last week it was no different. Surrounded by grandparents and grandchildren, families and groups of eager Beavers, Rainbows, Cubs, Scouts, Brownies and Guides the sense of excitement was almost palpable.

For the cast of The Nicest, Newest, Nuttiest Nativity ever I suspect it was the same.

After several months of rehearsals and practising lines at home, singing into a hairbrush or watching your own dancing in the mirror it was finally time to show everyone else just what you had achieved. As has always been the case with Tweed Theatre (an organisation that, by the way, is now celebrating 40 years of performance art in Peebles), we were not disappointed.

As the theatre darkened, the X-Factor theme tune boomed out around us and we were off. A voice explained that we were at the final auditions for the Christmas Show, Dame Nellie Scarlett, King Herod and the Angel Gabriel pounded down the theatre stairs, the curtains swung open and for the next two hours we watched, transfixed at the exciting, colourful spectacle in front of us.

The set made the most of the space and created a light, bright backdrop for the cast using hay bales and blue satin curtains which shimmered in the lights. As is usual in pantomime there was plenty of glitter, smoke effects, snow and bubbles to provide that extra magic and raise appreciative “ahhs” from those watching.

The first to audition was a group of adorable sheep (Olive Hillier, Eilidh MacLeod, Sophie Muir & Emily Robertson) who grinned at the audience and responded quickly to King Herod’s (aka Simon Cowell I think) criticism. They were followed by dancing cowgirls and a boy band who had the audience in stitches as they performed the Floss with varying degrees of success.

Tweed Theatre handled the story of the Nativity with sensitivity while still managing to inject all the fun of the panto and we followed Mary and Joseph (Gabrielle Sellar & Lewis George) as they made their way to Bethlehem with their faithful and acerbic donkey, Bray. The three Kings (Murray Anderson, William Macpherson, Joe Riley) and Shepherds (Fraser Gemmell, John Macpherson, Jacques Powell-Evans) were comic but reverent and their transformation into a sparkly, sequinned boy band was both funny and touching and they all looked suitably tortured as they performed Stay Another Day, the East 17 Christmas number 1 from 1994 (hard to believe it is 25 years ago!).

In any Nativity the costumes are almost as traditional as the story and Tweed Theatre didn’t disappoint here either. There were plenty of tea towels used as head dresses, and the Heavenly Host appeared to be wearing pillow cases although these also sparkled in the lights and with gold leggings and feathery halos looked really lovely.

The Heavenly Host (Aileigh Darker, Amy Johnston, Lila Kitching ,Beth McNamara, Anna Nethercot ) also provided sound effects, vocals and percussion and interacted the whole time with others on stage as well as decorating a Christmas tree, taking turns to become part of the dancing troupe and acting as prompts. Lil Kitching gave a heart stopping solo performance of One Night, One Moment when the lights went out in the theatre and the stage was lit only by the torches on the audience mobile phones and the lights on the tutus of the dancers.

The group of dancers (Sophie Crittenden, Maisie Darker, Ilona Oldakowski, Niamh McNamara, and Ruby Thornley) were transformed from decorative Santa figures to reindeer, gypsies and fairies and they looked to be having so much fun it was hard not to join them on stage – although my dancing skills are probably not up to it. Their costumes were fun, bright and oh so sparkly.

The Innkeepers (PJ Anderson, Elena Chrystie, Gabriela Hamza) were, by turns, grumpy, unhelpful and accommodating – all perfectly in character and in matching pink outfits they gave Bray the donkey plenty of cheek and made sure he knew his place.

Of course, we must give a mention to the stalwarts of the pantomime for the last few years. David McGrath as King Herod was booed and hissed and of course transformed into a nice person by the close of the show. His partnership with Keith Brunton as Dame Nellie Scarlett is always funny and they make no secret of the fact that they are ad libbing, off script or have forgotten their lines. Including plenty of local and topical references they bring pantomime directly into the community. Luckily the young cast around them is always more than able to step in and haul them out of any holes they may dig for themselves. Euan MacLeod (Bray the donkey) and Arran Houston (Angel Gabriel) have great comic timing and provide the perfect foil to the antics of the baddie and dame.

The production of a show like this is a huge commitment and the crew also deserve a mention – they have worked together for several years now and consequently the pantomime is a well-oiled machine, carefully planned and executed and a great opportunity to demonstrate the talent of so many local young people.

As Mary and Joseph made their way to Bethlehem and we witnessed the birth of Jesus and all the characters involved in that story, we were reminded of the reason we celebrate Christmas in a unique and joyful manner. Tweed Theatre once again got so much right in this show, the singing, dancing, acting, storytelling and special effects always get the festive season off to a great start in a lively and enthusiastic way full of imagination and great ideas.

Congratulations Tweed Theatre – you did again (oh yes, you did!).

Kate Harvey