Driving Home For Christmas, The Lyric Theatre, November 21
By Conor O’Neill
Photography courtesy of John Frazer
Christmas eve, the weather’s wild and The Dander Inn is the only place for weary travellers to nip in for a short respite. Or so they think. There’s no gin list here and if coffee is what you’re after, it’s either black, with milk, sugar or without; espresso macchiato? You’ll be needing your passport.
If you’ve ever had the intense pleasure of a Grimes and McKee flight of fantasy, then you’ll know you’re in for a cracking night. If, on the other hand, you’re one of the yet to be baptised, then by Jaysus, you’re in for a hell of an initiation.
There’s music from the off. The first track is ABBA’s Take A Chance On Me by local star tribute act Take A Chance On Us. If Alan McKee, Conor Grimes, Rod McVey and cohorts don’t make you laugh, then the Royal didn’t remove your tonsils, they mistakenly took out your funny bone.
And that opening scene is just for starters. Two hours of mayhem follows. Oul Paddy and Patsy run the supposed highest pub in Ireland, The Dander Inn. A welcome so shady you’ll wanna run out not dander asap. First through the door are country girl Ciara (Ruby Campbell) and her fiancée, Belfast sophisticat Rudy (Gary Crossan). Their 300-mile electric car has run outta leccy, should’ve put another fiver in the meter luvvies and stopped that box from singing.
Next through the door is Frankie Diamond (McKee) and his mute co-founder of Take A Chance On Us, Rod (musical director Rod McVey). The music though out, either by the mute behind the keys or pre-recorded tracks that permeate the scenes is simply fab. Scene after scene there’s little cut-a-ways leaving you questioning, ‘is this a Chrimbo play?’ Grimes and Mckee’s clever writing, along with director Frankie McCafferty’s steerage will bring you back to the fact that, yes, indeed, it is.
Last through the door is Alison (Ali White), an entrepreneurial type who sits neatly with Rudy’s well-heeled ideology, yet more savvy and ruthless.
Paddy and Patsy never serve the bar at the same time. Why’s Paddy a tight, mean-fisted bastard? The kelpie scene explains it all yet nothing at all, but, it’ll have you in stitches. Tis hard to keep up with this frantic double’s pace. A joke a minute is quite the understatement. Alison’s trip to The Vatican is a treasure. The cardinal meets the God Father.
The tele is turned on and off as rarely as the super-sur, the former requiring no exchange of money. Frank Mitchell’s weather warnings informs everywhere is on lockdown. Trapped the five clients resign themselves to the fact The Dander Inn is to be their home for the night.
Reliance turns to defiance and doubt. Rudy smells a rat. Or is it Lady, a frantic unseen hound who guards the upstairs of the pub. We all get our laughs here; whether it be on veganism tuning to cannibalism, the prices going up on a captured market, costume changes too many to mention, though simple in design, plus the singing is something to behold.
McKee and McVey’s former cover band, Freddy and the Mercuries I Want To Break Free and the antiquated hoovering scene is another you must see. As for the title track, Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas? Well, I was too busy laughing at Frankie Diamond’s Santa revelation to appreciate what a great voice Ruby Campbell has.
Lighting, direction, costume, audience interaction… music and of course brilliant comic acting will have you begging for more. The show is Northern Ireland meets the dark humour of The League Of Gentlemen.
The Lyric audience isn’t known for standing ovations, out of the close to 400 here tonight, about a third couldn’t help but stand. A second call well deserved.
Driving Home For Christmas runs up to and including January 4th. A great piece and not to be missed two hours of Christmas magic.
To book your tickets visit http://www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890 381081