Friday, November 22, 2019

Driving Home For Christmas – strange happenings in a snowed-in mid-Ulster pub (Lyric Theatre until 4 January)

Grimes and McKee are back on the Lyric Theatre stage with a new festive show, Driving Home For Christmas.

When a disparate bunch of people are frustrated by snow in their attempts to get home on Christmas Eve, they take shelter in The Dander Inn, off the beaten track in isolated mid-Ulster, and experience a less than warm welcome from twin sibling proprietors Pat and Paddy.

Take one ABBA tribute band, a posh BT9er going to spend Christmas Day with his fiancée’s culchie family, and a travelling saleswoman. Throw in some classic film and TV references, a scene from the Godfather, and the hound from hell, and you’ve got a peculiar mix of comedy sketches, musical numbers and linking dialogue.

Ruby Campbell plays Ciara, a calm and gracious nurse. Her soulful voice lifts the performance of the title song which is a highlight of the second half. We never quite understand why she has agreed to marry Rudy (Gary Crossan), an impractical fellow with marbles in his mouth and an accent that drifts between English public school, Helens Bay and the Malone Road.

Ali White adds yet more familial strife as Alison, who sells supplies to Catholic churches. Her husband is not expected to be coping well with preparations for the big day at home. But the male characters are better written and developed than the women. Alan McKee plays rough and ready Frank from the tribute group while his fellow artist Rod McVey is a man of few words who settles down at a piano he ‘finds’ in the corner of the pub. Conor Grimes revels in his dual roles, accents and costumes of dithery Pat and frugal Paddy, though sadly steers clear of pantomime-style too quick changes.

A madcap Bullseye sketch is crowd-pleasing and shows off the team’s talent. The set design (Stuart Marshall) gives some subtle clues to the late plot twist, and inclusion of Bacon Fries behind the bar is a nice nod to another recent show on the same stage.

While there are plenty of jokes, good harmony singing and some clever lyrical changes (These are a Few of My Favourite Best Selling Things) throughout the two-hour performance, the timing and pacing of the show is still a little rough. That may settle down as the run continues, but overall it doesn’t have the ambition or winning formula of Grimes and McKee’s magnum opus Nativity … What the Donkey Saw (which was also directed by Frankie McCafferty).

Driving Home For Christmas continues in the Lyric Theatre until 4 January.

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