REVIEW: Driving Home For Christmas

I don't know what it is about Conor Grimes and Alan McKee, but their Christmas comedy shows have a habit of speaking openly and subliminally to our sensibilities every single year. The quality of their work, which to be frank is variable, arguably reaches its zenith in the Frankie McCafferty-directed Driving Home For Christmas, a light hearted surfeit of pure entertainment coating the full hearted sensitivity that effortlessly emerges from its exceptional cast.

Placing us in the highest pub in Ireland – not the Ponderosa, by the way, but Stuart Marshall's superbly designed Dander Inn, surely called so because you just "dander in" and stuff happens – is the doorway to a collection of initially wry wit which ultimately develops into full on laughter. All this is accompanied by the music, and sometimes acting, of musical director Rod McVey, whose consistent involvement with the ensemble is the icing on the Christmas cake.

Said ensemble, along with Grimes and McKee themselves, are Gary Crossan and Ruby Campbell as almost-married couple Rudy and Ciara, and Ali White as Alison, a religious saleswoman. Thrown together at the top of a mountain amidst a snowfall that its characters can't get out of presents Grimes, McKee, McCafferty and the cast with the opportunity to eke laughter, comfort and discomfort from the traditional scenario of being marooned. 

Memories of Christmas that we once enjoyed but have left or would rather leave in the past, like tribute bands, board gaming and game shows with tacky prizes that we wouldn’t know where to put – yes, Bullseye's speedboat, I'm talking about you! – are cheerily unearthed in an atmosphere of pleasure, chuckles and at times skin-crawling uneasiness. Our colourful and nostalgic recollections of youthful Yuletide joy are slyly turned on their head by Grimes and McKee to expose the ugliness of the self – there are moments when the altitude isn't so much about the location of the pub as the egos in the place.

That also goes for the pub-owning twin siblings Pat and Paddy (Grimes), the pivot and contributor to a circle of madness which reminds us that our social graces aren't always what we want them to be. Perhaps this is most prevalent with Rudy, who presents himself to everyone with a faux posh accent because, rather sadly, it's all he can do to maintain any sort of image. He's the polar opposite of his warm-hearted love Ciara, who has no airs and graces about her and knows to not flaunt what she strives to achieve in pursuit of attention-seeking. Unlike Alison.

In other words, Rudy and Ciara are the emotional and physical core of the show. Credit actors Gary Crossan and Ruby Campbell for this, who relish being given the chance by Grimes, McKee and director McCafferty to live and breathe beyond the metaphorical and the comical. Especially Campbell, whose rendition of Chris Rea's famous title song is simply beautiful. The brilliant Ali White isn't quite so fortunate, alas – the consequence of maintaining a swift pace ensures that, barring a handful of scene-stealing moments, Alison is largely sidelined. At least until a loud finale where everything comes out in the open, thunderous laughter in the Lyric Theatre included.

Perhaps the best thing to drive home with from Driving Home For Christmas is a lesson about the messes we make in trying, maybe too hard, to bring tidings of great joy to everyone but, above all, oneself. And a tale, behind the tomfoolery, about coming together, compromising to create kindness and learning, however briefly, to forget about wounded pride. A reminder about meeting the needs of other people, or, if you prefer, a new found family before we face the consequences of cheap material gain and simple satisfaction. It's about being inspired to take initiative – just in time to save both the holiday season and ourselves.

Simon Fallaha

Driving Home For Christmas runs at Belfast's Lyric Theatre until January 4, 2020. For more information go to

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