Late Late Toy Show review: What was missing from the show was ...

Jennifer O’Connell wraps up her review of Ryan Tubridy’s eighth Toy Show

Young Irish fan Evan Hoban's dream came true last night when he was presented with an Irish jersey by Jamie Heaslip on The Late Late Toy Show. Video: RTÉ

 

Five months to go

I assemble my three children, aged 10, 8 and 2, in our home in San Francisco.

“We’re moving back to Ireland, and this is good news.”

“Why?”

“Because Ireland is a green and beautiful land with a stable political system, affordable education, and progressive marriage equality rights. Plus, when Christmas comes, you’ll be able to stay up to watch the Late Late Toy Show.”

“What’s a Late Late Toy Show?”

“It’s a national institution, a valuable part of your cultural heritage, and an annual event that unites the country, bring families together in an orgy of sugar and trans fatty acids, and heralds the arrival of Christmas.”

Blank looks.

“It’s, er, a TV show featuring lots of children reviewing toys.”

“So like those YouTube videos where kids spend 10 minutes opening a Kinder egg?”

“There’s music too. And Christmas jumpers. Dancing. Book reviews. Craic.”

“Right so.”

They don’t sound convinced. But that’s only because they haven’t yet seen Ryan Tubridy getting rammed in the legs by a reckless five-year-old driver on a miniature solar-powered Massey Ferguson.

Three hours before

I read the Irish Times online and realise we did not have to move home to enjoy the Late Late Toy Show live, as it’s being screened worldwide via the RTE Player. Oh well.

Showtime

As had been more widely leaked than the contents of this year’s Budget, the 2016 show opens with a Jungle Book medley, featuring tromboning bears, a very impressive dancing Mowgli, jiving zebras, leaping orangutans, swaying grasses and Ryan Tubridy, whose courage apparently knows no bounds, singing live as Baloo. (Someone pass the man an inhaler.)

Kaa the snake glides over the heads of the audience, and anyone hoping for a quiet nap up the back before heading home with loads of free stuff soon realizes what a dreadful mistake they have made. The set, created with the assistance of students from IADT is very green and lush - lots more lush, at this point in the proceedings, than most of the audience. (That undoubtedly changes as the night wears on.) On this reviewer’s sofa, the 10- and 8-year-old sceptical first-time viewers are won over. The two-year-old has fallen into a sugar coma.

Then it’s over to the real business of the night - Ryan’s outfit. The air is filled with the sound of 1.56 million Late Late Toy Show bingo cards being thrown to the floor in disgust, as our host forsakes the traditional Christmas jumper for the controversial choice of a shirt apparently made from old wrapping paper. (The RTE complaints department must have been inundated, because Ryan comes back after the break wearing a jumper, saving Christmas.)

There are ‘aw’ moments aplenty: a delightfully poised Beibhinn from Abbeyleix gets the first one of the night when she demos a very ingenuous diabetes doll, showing Ryan how her own diabetes monitor in the process. Our household declares her a future Sheryl Sandberg. The ‘awometer’ goes off the chart when a boy called Alex tells Ryan about his collection of fairy doors, and how he writes to the fairies who live behind them “whenever I have a worry”.

And it breaks altogether when solemn faced little farmer Darragh tells Ryan that his pet sheep Tara is no more, since she “went to the factory with Daddy.” “Do you have Sunday lunch often?” Ryan wonders.

As usual, the musical interludes are met with simultaneous admiration and dismay from those of us whose hopes of actually getting on the Late Late Toy Show continue to ride on our mastery of Doh-A-Deer on the tin whistle. This year’s batch of mini Adeles and Robbie Williams includes incredibly talented Hannah singing Lost Boy; a future Broadway star called Aaron; a choir singing Coldplay’s Fix You, and a country music session – which briefly raises hopes of Ryan actually getting rammed in the legs with the miniature Massey Ferguson.

The toys themselves are relegated to second place by the charming, and only occasionally precocious, contestants. Our household warms to Millie Rose, who refuses point blank to get on a space hopper, and an eminently practical pair of seven-year-olds called Lexie and Sarah, who make themselves instant heroines of parents everywhere when they deflate the hype around this year’s most sought-after toy, Hatchimals. “Not worth the money, Ryan,” they declare.

A future Eileen Grey -- a sharp dresser with a great manicure -- called Anna, presents her Lego dream house to Ryan complete with L-shaped island, and reveals that Dermot Bannon is her favourite architect. “He always impresses the women more than the men because they’re always in the kitchen, and the men are always quiet,” Anna declares.

None other than Dermot himself arrives out from backstage to make Anna’s dream come true when he gives her… a pencil and a hard hat. Not exactly the first edition Philosopher’s Stone handed out to a little Harry Potter fan earlier, the Jamie Heaslip jersey book-reviewing rugby fan Evan will get later, or the signed video games and Irish Open tickets Rory McIlroy hand delivers to sports gamer and golf fan, Charlie. Anna, it is clear, was robbed. I deliver a lecture to my children on the importance of choosing your heroes wisely.

The other book reviewers include Timmy, who performs an impromptu rap, and Kathryn who reads from a child’s book on Trump. Yes, that is a real thing. Yes, I want it.

Ryan is at his unvarnished best in the company of lots of little people, with lots of opportunity to make a fool of himself, whether it’s performing like a meerkat-on-speed to Freddie Mercury’s Don’t Stop Me Know with a girl called Michaela, or making a turkey of himself with a talking sausage that appears to be asking him to engage in an act almost certainly unsuitable for family viewing.

If something is missing from this year’s show, it’s that there wasn’t much time given to actual children actually reviewing the actual toys.

But as ever, nothing elicits as much glee as the one-for-everyone-in-the-audience moments: the audience tonight are going home with a Woodies voucher, a blue FurReal dragon, a camera, a day ticket to the Irish Open and an Argos discount card.

Let’s face it, there’s no sight on earth that says “Christmas” quite like a middle-aged Late Late Show audience member going home with a Santa hat and an armload of booty.

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