Monday, December 13, 2021

Grimes and McKee’s Christmas Album – rockin’ the Lyric Theatre until 30 December

Would it truly be Christmas in Belfast if Grimes and McKee couldn’t step onto a stage and bring merriment and mirth to festive audiences? My first experience was back in 2009 – Howl! performed in QUB’s Elmwood Hall while the Lyric was being renovated – but they’ve been actin’ the lig at Christmas since 1998 and there are families that loyally follow them from venue to venue to partake in their annual tinsel-tipped ritual. (2016’s The Nativity … What the Donkey Saw is definitely my favourite.)

This year, pandemic complications have allowed the comedy pair to escape the shackles of a single narrative (and other cast members!) and allowed them to weave together sketches with a series of recurring characters, accompanied by keyboard maestro and butt of their jokes, Matt Evans.

Grimes and McKee’s Christmas Album opens with a couple of lads from up the country who have met up in the big smoke. Jim Reeves meets Elvis Presley in the first of a series of wig-tastic musical giant encounters. And two failed shopping channel presenters try their hand at a Saturday morning cooking show before turning to online streaming to pay the rent.

It’s a vintage year for the comedy duo, but a few moments stand out from the show.

Firstly, the extended Christmas-themed Gospel reading in Ulster Scots (“the wee doll wi’ the name a Mary doin’ a line wi’ the lad Joseph, a chippie” who found the inn was “clean bunged to the rafters”) from midnight mass in Pomeroy is a moment of magical genius. The pair – particularly Conor Grimes – may have missed their true vocation!

And then there are the songs performed in the ‘Oirish’ folk club. Back in the days of Barry Cowan and David Dunseith, Radio Ulster’s lunchtime Talkback programme sometimes included musical skits. Somewhere in a box I’ve a recording of one of their Christmas specials from the late 1980s that was full of clever lyrics sending up contemporary issues. Last night’s creations were up there with the best of them.

When McKee launches into the open lyric “Boris did a protocol that Arlene didn’t like” the audience are quickly in stitches. After the interval, the satire returns with a tribute to “all the virologists on Facebook”. (For anyone seeking balance or searching for offence – that’s a polite way of flagging up potential whataboutery – Robin Swann earns a new nickname and senior Sinn Féin figures don’t get away unscathed in other sketches.)

It’s a flexible format that exploits the pair’s strengths. Grimes’ mannerisms and comedic delaying tactics feed off the audience’s warm response, while McKee’s tongue’s grasp of complicated dialogue and lyrics is a joy to the ears. The humour is less forced, and less crude, than some of the previous story-centric shows, rewarded with repeated howls of hysterical laughter that resonated around the Ridgeway Street wooden auditorium.

If you want your funny bone tickled, you can find Grimes and McKee’s Christmas Album in the Lyric until Thursday 30 December.

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