Grimes and McKee
Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Alan McKee is the plumpish one, Conor Grimes the scary one. Between them, over the years, these two once jobbing actors have become an Ulster institution, an on-stage, dangerously wild (but certainly not Wilde), seemingly inseparable darkly comedic duo, a sub-elemental force which found its apogee in the frequently revived The History of the Troubles (accordin' to me Da) to whose script and performances they add the spice of farce and terror.
Bar that, their chief function is, and has been, to brash-up Belfast's Lyric Theatre's adult Christmas shows ever since writer Marie Jones and actor Dan Gordon reckoned there were no miles left in their old banger, the frequently re-MOT-ed Christmas Eve Can Kill You, AKA The Taxi-Driver's Tale.
G & McK's foil this time round is Dickens's seminal Christmas Carol wherein Ebeneezer Scrooge (Frankie McCafferty) becomes a Belfast property developer intent on turning the actual theatre's plum real life riverside site into another premium price block of "exclusive executive" apartments. Bob Cratchit (Conor Grimes) is his faithfully foolish dogsbody with a brood of state-sponging thieving lowlifes (Niki Doherty as Ma and Patrick J O'Reilly a son) who take their sentimental highlights in the mode of television's Z-list celebrities and whose oher son Tiny Tim (Alan McKee) is a monstrous diabetic whose every petulant desire is his parents' command.
It is a pertinent story in that the rain-porous 62 year old theatre will actually close after this show, money permitting, to be rebuilt to architects O'Donnell and Tuomey's elegant new design while all about leafy Belfast suburbs are being transformed, their expansive private gardens built over, in greedy pursuit of the city's post-Peace Process prosperity.
But like many performing duos defused by success, neither Grimes nor McKee has had the energy to follow through with their chosen discipline. Thus, while the first 20 minutes are engagingly, raucously, savagely and hilariously satirical, thereafter the theme wanders off like the tail-end of a Christmas office party. Siobhan Ferrie's stage centre Tower of Bable setting becomes but an awkward millstone. The usually magnetically self-contained McCafferty looses heart, more and more ill at ease with both the failing script and the frantic compensatory gallumping of its two seemingly unassailable heroes, G & McK.
Director John Breen, who made his name with his own play, Alone It Stands, a world wide success as an inventive tale of rural Ireland's rugby passions, is, too, flummoxed by the conjoined energies of G & McK. So too indeed are we the audience, sinking back into our scuffed seats, comforting or frightening ourselves with the certainty that, come two years, we'll be back here, come what may, in a splendid new auditorium, marvelling, yet again, as to how two these lads have become an often appealingly unstoppable force of nature in Belfast theatres.
Till January 12th 2008
Reviewer: Ian Hill