Driving Home for Christmas – Lyric Theatre – Review
by Cath Brown
Until Jan 4th 2020
Driving Home for Christmas, the Lyric Theatre Belfast’s Christmas production this year, sees comedy duo Conor Grimes and Alan McKee return with a new freewheeling show that is a little bit darker than the usual festive fare.
It is Christmas Eve and Northern Ireland has been brought to a standstill by unprecedented snowfall. Five unfortunate characters who are trying to get home for Christmas end up stranded in the Dander Inn – Northern Ireland’s unofficial highest pub – run by League of Gentlemen-style brother and sister, identical twins Paddy and Pat (both ingeniously played by Conor Grimes).
Ciara (Ruby Campbell) is bringing her posh hipster boyfriend Rudy (Gary Crossan) home for the holidays following their recent engagement. Two members of Mid-Ulster’s second-best ABBA tribute band (Alan McKee and Rod McVey) have lost their female bandmates while Catholic supplies salesperson Alison (Ali White) is worried that her husband won’t cope with the Christmas preparations if she isn’t there.
As the Superser runs out of gas, can this bunch of misfits survive on gin and tonics and bacon fries until help comes? Moreover, as Stuart Marshall’s ingenious set seems to decay around them, should they be worrying about something more sinister than the cold, the dark and the lack of food?
The play’s success relies heavily on the five actors who ably play a variety of roles. Grimes and McKee are less of a double-act here than usual, but both have a natural charisma and chemistry on stage. Alan McKee is a warm, entertaining presence as Frank and does a mean Freddie Mercury impersonation. Conor Grimes steals the show with his twin portrayals of Pat and Paddy, the decidedly odd proprietors of the Dander Inn. Gary Crossan, as posh boy Rudy – all no socks and vegan diet – gives a fantastically funny performance that manages to avoid caricature. Ruby Campbell’s stunning singing voice is used to full advantage and she is as winning a presence here, as she was in Alice the Musical at the Lyric last Christmas. Ali White has a ball as Alison and particular credit must go to Rod McVey, who provides live musical accompaniment alongside a deadpan silent routine that works beautifully amidst the anarchy.
In last year’s Bah Humbug! Grimes and McKee’s particular brand of humour felt constrained by the existing plot of A Christmas Carol, but here, the loose plot gives them free reign to indulge in some hilarious set pieces. There is a Godfather-esque Pope, dealing in religious trinkets and a crowd-pleasing recreation of an episode of Bullseye. While the characters snack on communion wafers dipped in sweet chilli sauce and get confused about the plot of Home Alone, the laughs come thick and fast.
The comedy in Driving Home for Christmas is broad and often obvious. There are some pacing issues, which mean that the show can feel disjointed at times – a series of sketches rather than a coherent storyline – but director Frankie McCafferty directs with an infectious gleefulness and sensibly balances the overall tone with some more subtle moments that emphasise the relationships between the characters.
There is little narrative arc to speak of and some of the songs don’t quite work, but it really doesn’t matter when a show is filled with this much energy and talent. Powered along by fantastic performances and some real laugh-out-loud moments, Driving Home for Christmas is sure to be a festive hit.