The Nativity… What the Donkey Heard, Theatre Review, December 8th 2020
By Conor O’Neill
First staged in 2004 and revived in 2016, 2020 sees the audio return of Grimes and McKee’s adult Christmas show The Nativity… What the Donkey Heard. Everything youlearnt at school is debunked. From God’s gender, to how wise the wisemen actually were, the joys and fears of being a shepherd and of course, in typical Grimes and McKee style, a ton of sing-a-long, rewritten classic tunes with Rod McVey tinkling the ivories.
Kicking things off, after a few introductory words from the Big Girl herself, who just like Bono, ‘works in mysterious ways’, we meet Mary at the deli counter of the local Centra. After that it all goes sideways, backways, skew-wiff and on as many tangents as you can throw the proverbial holly-wreath at.
A jobsworth and totally inept Arch Angel Gabriel soon gets the chuckles going as he breaks the news that Mary is to be the unmarried mum of the Saviour. Everything we consider Holy is taken with a ton of salt. Next met is Joseph, carpenter (apprentice) and his boss Wee Davy.
As with most things from Grimes and McKee, Northern Irish humour and recent-ish events are never far away; Joseph is late for work due to roadblocks and camel cavity searches are a humdrum daily occurrence under the occupying Roman forces. Sound familiar?
Again, as per expected, this 2020 version has moved with the times, Caesar Trumpious has been replaced by Caesar Joe Bidenous, ‘the people of Rome have spoken’. The new Caesar has decreed a census and all men must return to the town of their ancestors’ birth, putting our Joseph in quite the pickle.
There are so many great scenes in this audio play, one of my favourite being best man Wee Davy’s speech at the shotgun wedding; pun filled messages from those who couldn’t attend, one from the shepherds, but more on them later; Joseph’s heartfelt words, Mary’s words of warning to the single fellas at the do, the bumbling Rabbi’s blessing and the disorganised near riot of those only invited to the evening bash because, “Mary and Joseph didn’t like ‘em enough to invite them to the whole day!”
Another scene bound to make you laugh is skint Joseph’s encounter with the used camel dealer. Of course he’s after the most comfortable camel in Nazareth; not a mission on his budget and so is forced to accept a wonky Hi-onkey from Korea named Nijinski – get it?
Of course the road to Bethlehem is marred with roadworks, run-ins with Roman legionnaires, and the two are forced make do with their Hi-onkey. For a while…
As to what to expect in Bethlehem Joseph breaks into a variations of The Pogues Fairy Tale of New York. Just one of the many tunes that swing this Christmas story along with mirth. Listeners can also expect renditions of Good King Wenceslas, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday to name but a few.
As for the cast, with so many characters in the play and so many scenes it’s obvious all five cast members play multiple roles. From what I can make out based on voice alone is Tara-Lynne O’Neill plays Mary, Terence Keeley plays Joseph, Kerri Quinn plays God as well as well a bunch of other charactersand writers Conor Grimes and Alan McKee jump in and out of roles at will.
Keeping with the present times, all the inns in Bethlehem are conducting temperature tests at the front doors due to the recent plague known as Covidious XIX. Everything is Romanised and will definitely keep you chuckling when not laughing-out-loud and spitting one’s Harpicus or Guinnicus across the room.
And just what about that room Joseph was to book? His mostly comatose cousin Spit was to book the room but things got lost – read ‘eaten’ – in transportation.
Of course, we all know the ending, but to add a little intrigue, there’s The You Know What’ at the inn now known as There’s No Room At The Inn.
What would the Christmas story be with the three quite not wisemen. Virgos and Chizler seem to be led by the mysterious Baltazar who seems not to have got the memo regarding the traditional gifts for the Christ’s birth. The child’s birth is another giggle, fathers up and down the land will recognise their total ineptitude of their role during this momentous event, mothers will undoubtedly nudge their partner’s ribs at the episode. Expect a lot of beeped out expletives during this scene.
Rooster, Buckle and intriguingly named The Spoof Who?… we’re left guessing but these three shepherds aren’t the full shilling. After a rewriting of Merry Christmas Everyone the three embark on an insane debate on, well… you’ll have to find out. Let’s just say it’s the wildest tangents of this whole, crazy tale. The three are visited by a hoven-footed, tenor-voiced ghoul and then a host of angels, after much fooling about the three join the rest in Bethlehem.
Would I have preferred to see this in the warmth of the Lyric? Of course I would. But I did chuckle throughout, definitely. There’s a little bit of sentimental scenes towards the end but all-in-all The Nativity… What the Donkey Heard is one hour and nearly 20 minutes of blistering festive fun. And only a couple of running cock jokes to note!
To book your online audio play visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk.
The show runs from today December 8th until February 3rd, 2021
Tickets are only £10 per device but owing to the struggling arts scene listeners are asked to dig deep and add a few quid as a Christmas donation. ��