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A Late Late Toy Show like no other – bringing us together while apart

The fizzy shot of TV joy we all needed, writes Pat Stacey

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In a year like no other we’ve seen, The Late Late Toy Show was always destined to be like no other we’ve seen. It was no small challenge to pull it together.

Adapting a regular edition of the Late Late to Covid-19 conditions is one thing. We’ve got used to seeing Ryan Tubridy without an audience to bounce off interviewing guests by video link, and for the most part it worked better than anyone could have expected.

The Toy Show is a different kettle of Lego bricks, though, a far more complicated thing to click together at a time like this. You have to say that everyone involved did a splendid job.

Pandemic precautions meant some things had to be pared back or sacrificed. Not having an audience meant nixing one of the evening’s trademarks, the “one for everyone in the audience” freebie splurge – although the virtual audience on a bank of screens helped inject some energy and atmosphere.

There weren’t as many young toy demonstrators as usual in the studio, and those that were had to be protected by scrupulous social distancing. Health concerns also meant there were fewer all-singing, all-dancing, all-cartwheeling stage school moppets invading the set this year.

They were still to be found in the big opening number, though, part of which was prerecorded in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy – a fitting backdrop for this year’s theme, “The Wonderful World of Roald Dahl”.

We already knew Tubridy would be playing Fantastic Mr Fox, surrounded by various other Dahl characters, Matildas, Oompa Loompas (the only orange-faced creatures the world is not sick and tired of seeing), Twits and what have you.

What we didn’t expect was the twist in the opening segment. Tubridy doubled up as a reader in the library and Dahl’s vulpine hero, and then the prerecorded segment neatly segued into the studio show proper. The biggest surprise of all, however, was the song. Rather than something from one of the Dahl screen adaptations – which, going on past form, was what everyone expected – it was none other than Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet. Tubridy wasn’t kidding when he said we’d never guess it, and it was an inspired choice.

We already knew Tubridy would be playing Fantastic Mr Fox, surrounded by various other Dahl characters, Matildas, Oompa Loompas (the only orange-faced creatures the world is not sick and tired of seeing), Twits and what have you.

What we didn’t expect was the twist in the opening segment. Tubridy doubled up as a reader in the library and Dahl’s vulpine hero, and then the prerecorded segment neatly segued into the studio show proper. The biggest surprise of all, however, was the song. Rather than something from one of the Dahl screen adaptations – which, going on past form, was what everyone expected – it was none other than Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet. Tubridy wasn’t kidding when he said we’d never guess it, and it was an inspired choice.

On second thoughts, as Willy Wonka (whose chocolate factory gates adorned the set) would say: “Wait a minute! Strike that. Reverse it.” Tubridy as Mr Fox doing Bjork was only the second biggest surprise of the night. The real knockout came in the second part of the show, when Tubridy, doing a second musical routine for the first time ever, connected with his inner Gene Kelly to recreate the famous ‘Singing in the Rain’ routine on – wait for it – the streets of Fair City’s Carrigstown.

There were dancers with twirling umbrellas and children dressed as ducks. The film’s full-sized cop was replaced by a tiny garda, played by wonderful Matthew McHugh, who turned up elsewhere in the evening.

The show got the balance just right. The kids were funny and delightful (not least Saoirse, who sent a letter to David Walliams and was delighted to see the man himself reply in a video message), the musical acts never overwhelmed the simple pleasure of seeing ordinary kids having fun, and the whole evening delivered with gusto and charm. It was just the fizzy shot of joy the nation needs right now.

It’s been a difficult 2020 for all of us, and a heartbreaking one for many. Christmas will be difficult and sometimes heartbreaking, too. Even with the lifting of some restrictions, we won’t be able to celebrate with loved ones the way we normally do.

Parents, children, grandparents and grandchildren are separated – by postcodes, by counties, by countries and by continents. This year’s Toy Show delivered many of the expected items: the ride-through of bikes and toy cars and the book and games corners were present and correct.

The heart of the show, and a real heart-tugger as well, was the long-distance performance of Take That’s Rule the World by children with Irish roots in locations around the globe.

Young Eva Norton from Lucan led off, joined virtually by kids in various parts of America, Australia, South Africa, Spain and Dubai. The contribution by New York’s Aisling Céilí Ballad Group was prerecorded in Times Square at 6am during Presidential Election week.

The youngsters got to send their Christmas wishes to their loved ones back here. It was an especially lovely, touching segment that echoed what all of us are feeling right now: a sense of being apart, yet being in this thing together.

It’s been said that The Toy Show, invariably the most-watched programme of the year, is the one television event that always brings us together. It certainly did that last night.

Irish Independent


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