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Toy Show the Musical: We went to the opening night. The news isn’t good

Theatre: Plenty of talent is evident both on stage and behind it, but ultimately this comes across as a self-congratulatory, if spectacular, marketing ploy

Toy Show The Musical. Photograph: Ste Murray

Toy Show the Musical

Convention Centre Dublin

In the opening moments of Toy Show the Musical an ensemble of children are performing an elaborate song-and-dance countdown. “Only 12 more hours to go,” they sing energetically, impatient for “the one and only night when we all come together” to begin. Are they talking about Christmas, a person might legitimately wonder, looking at the sparkling lights and gingerbread clues, or about the arrival of Santa Claus? No. They are waiting for The Late Late Toy Show, which in this odd confection from Jane Murphy and Katherine Drohan elevates the annual TV show beyond its status as a contemporary cultural tradition to that of a national holiday.

The book and lyrics from Lisa Tierney-Keogh and Jamie Beamish create a plausible storyline for proceedings, with RuthAnne Cunningham and Harry Blake’s wide-ranging music offering a skeleton structure to the plot. It is Toy Show eve, and the kids of Tricycle Street are especially excited for this year’s programme, as one of their friends, Billy Bagpipes (Calum Kieran), is due to perform. Nell Mooney (played on opening night by the spunky Clare Keely) has some trepidation: it is the first time that her late mother (Clare Barrett) will not be present to conduct the family’s Toy Show rituals, and she is not sure her father (Beamish) wants to participate at all. When an all-island power cut puts a stop to festivities, Nell and her gang of friends (who include several stars from previous Toy Shows) step in to save the day.

There is much to admire in the ambitious staging by Séimí Campbell, which moves along quickly on Colin Richmond’s revolving set. Puppets stand in for lead characters in flashbacks. The adult ensemble animate pieces of furniture. A miniature streetscape offers panoramic views of the community, a symbol also of the greater global community the musical invokes. Richmond’s props and costumes are also noteworthy, adding an ingenious and inventive DIY feel that will inspire creative children.

But the production cannot shake off its indebtedness to the source material it seeks to celebrate. The Late Late Toy Show may have become an important element of an Irish Christmas, but the musical tries far too hard to make a case for its significance. Despite the talent evident on the stage and behind it, it is difficult not to feel cynical about the artistic intention of what is essentially a spectacular, self-congratulatory marketing ploy.


Toy Show the Musical runs at Convention Centre Dublin until December 31st, 2022

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer