Late Late Toy Show: The gutsiest, glitziest show on earth

Review: Big dance number. Heart-wringing heroes. Ryan Tubridy’s singing. It’s all here

Ryan Tubridy gets caught out by Late Late Toy Show guest Davy. Video: RTE One/The Late Late Toy Show

 

Fourteen hours to go
The country wakes to breathless bulletins breaking the only news that matters: the theme of this year’s Late Late Toy Show has been revealed. It is “the Greatest Showman”.

In any other context this would be a decidedly risky move by RTÉ. Subeditors everywhere would be rubbing their thighs with glee, and planning an early night, knowing tomorrow’s headlines would look after themselves.

But, on this day, venturing the view that Tubridy is not the greatest showman, and The Late Late Toy Show may not actually be the greatest show on earth – better than Hendrix at Woodstock or U2 at the Dandelion Market – is grounds for rescinding your Irish citizenship. You might as well claim you don’t enjoy a good funeral.

Five minutes to go
As we sit through the commercial break, the Irish Times LLTS desk does a final run-through of the expected highlights:

  • The obligatory taciturn nine-year-old to turn up in a tweed jacket, explain Brexit, farming or Fortnite, and admit to a crush on Majella O’Donnell.
  • Tubridy flossing.
  • Tubridy tearing up during an “aw” moment. He broke the seal last year, and got emotional during a segment when an Irish solider who had been in Mali for six months climbed out of a giant present and surprised his children. I can’t even type that without crying. He warned this week that he cried three times in rehearsals, so we’re expecting this to be the year he pulls a full Gwyneth at the 1999 Oscars.
  • Hugh Jackman showing up in person to surprise Ireland’s greatest Greatest Showman fan. This may be a long shot.

9.35pm
In the words of the great PT Barnum, “It’s show time.” Or was that PJ Mara?

The Late Late Toy Show is our haka: a national celebration of all things Irish, expressed through the medium of aggressive dance routines performed by adorable, but terrifyingly precocious, children – while the rest of the country watches on in a sugar- and trans-fat-induced coma.

So of course it begins with a big, glitzy dance segment, featuring dozens of terrifying and simultaneously adorable little sweeties from the Spotlight Stage School, and one slightly older one.

To be fair to Tubridy, now on his 10th Late Late Toy Show, he is not afraid to make a fool of himself. His singing is, um, gutsy. The setting – constructed to look like a giant circus tent – is suitably ambitious. And, yes, the opening is indeed the greatest.

When he catches his breath, Tubridy, hyped up like a senior-infants school tour let loose in the Haribo factory, performs a rapid-fire unboxing routine with a selection of this year’s hot toys, including a spotty-head Pimple Pete, for the person in your life who can’t squeeze enough blackheads, and a cardboard box to put your phone in. What a time to be alive.

The twins are wearing two hairbands each and a bow. We are treated to a photograph of one of them dressed up as Chucky, and everything else goes blank

Tubridy always settles as soon as he’s surrounded by small humans, so everyone breathes a sigh of relief when, blissfully unaware of the million pairs of eyes on him, Davy from Galway comes on, ostensibly to talk our host through his favourite toys, but really to bring a bit of calm to the proceedings.

It doesn’t work. Little Davy wants to keep talking about rehearsals. Tubridy is anxious it’s ruining the magic. What’s your favourite toy, Tubridy asks. “The one you forgot,” Davy says. “Remember the one you forgot to do in rehearsals?”

Davy is promptly dispatched to wherever children who can’t stop mentioning rehearsals end up.

Next up is the future Ryanair boss Alyssa, with her unicorns – as any parent of any four-year-old can tell you, unicorns are the new princesses – and her €100 coffees.

Then, oh good, there’s a performance that is… oh, sweet divine, it can’t be. Yes, it’s the Baby Shark song, and now it’s going to take you about four months to get that song out of your… BABY SHARK, DOO, DOO, DOO, DOO, DOO, DOO, BABY SHARK, DOO, DOO, DOO, DOO, DOO, DOO.

All right, we’re back.

Corey comes on with his mohawk and his menagerie, and we have the first moment everyone looks forward to: a child getting really irritated when a toy doesn’t work. Fill in your Late Late Toy Show bingo cards, and take a drink.

Then – yes! — Tubridy flosses, more bingo cards are filled in, and everyone knocks back another drink. This is going to be a long night.

Late Late Toy Show: to be fair to Ryan Tubridy, he is not afraid to make a fool of himself. Photograph: Andres Poveda
Late Late Toy Show: to be fair to Ryan Tubridy, he is not afraid to make a fool of himself. Photograph: Andres Poveda

In part two Tubridy pairs up with twins Mya and Ria and an army of the kind of dolls nightmares are made of, including one called Ursula. Twitter immediately notices that the twins are wearing two hairbands each and a bow. It’s official: the boom is back.

We are treated to a photograph of one of the twins dressed up as Chucky, and everything else goes blank.

Then it’s into the bit of the show where we get to see all the children who had their dreams crushed by the production team get to have their dreams crushed once more. This is followed by a high-octane performance of George Ezra’s Paradise, and the annual segment with the Lego overachievers and the junior farmers – this time it’s brothers Jerome and Connell.

Then their little brother, Donagh, announces he likes Barbies and unicorns, and everyone melts.

One of the loveliest “aw” moments of the night comes when Leo from Kildare performs a note-perfect We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Tubs rewards him with a big hug, and the nation sighs as it remembers why he is still the only man for this job.

Young Cormac is not actually wearing a tweed jacket, but it’s immediately clear the future builder/landlord/TD has the potential to be 2018’s John Joe the horologist. He wants to build apartments for people, and he has already built a Lego Taj Mahal, so throwing up a block of 220 flats in Stoneybatter shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. He’s going to build his mam a house, with a pool and unlimited wifi, he tells Tubridy, who suggests he should run for the county council when he grows up. Way to nurture a child’s dreams.

Then Tubridy flosses again, and the nation drinks.

As Late Late Toy Shows go this one has had it all: ritz, glitz, guts, raw energy and an appreciation for why difference is what makes the world interesting

Sharp-suited Michael, who wants to bring Sam back to Kerry, steals the book-review section with his reviews of Braille books, and with his deliciously taciturn communications style. “Do you think you’d get on well with Davy Fitzgerald if you met him?” Tubs asks Michael.

“No,” Michael says. “I’m not from Six-mile-bridge.”

Naturally, Davy Fitz materialises. “What would you like to say to him?” Tubridy asks. “I don’t know,” Michael says. “I didn’t prepare this.”

Eventually, he settles on: “I have your book in the back, and I need you to sign it.”

“I like this guy,” Fitzgerald says.

Another contender for the 2018 John Joe Sound as a Pound award is junior gardener Stella, the kind of woman you’d want in your corner in a crisis. “I bet you’re great crack in the pub,” Tubs says to her.

The heart-wringing heroes of the night are cousins Grace and Scott. Grace got a bone-marrow transplant from Scott on November 30th last year. “I wanted to save her life,” Scott says when Tubs asks why he did it. Scott gets to meet some of his heroes: Tadhg Furlong, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney. “This is a real-life hero right here,” Kearney says, and it’s hard to disagree.

The outstanding musical moment is 15-year-old Rachel Coyne performing Never Enough, from The Greatest Showman. “We don’t get too many standing ovations around here,” Tubs tells her, before revealing that he’s sending her off to Windmill Lane to record a song.

Acres of column inches are devoted to deconstructing the appeal of The Late Late Toy Show, but it’s pretty simple. It’s nostalgic TV with all the feels. As Toy Shows go this one has had it all: ritz, glitz, guts, raw energy and an appreciation for why difference is what makes the world interesting.

Put him in a top hat and a ridiculous jumper, feed him jellies and surround him with small humans, and Tubridy really is the greatest showman. And it has been the greatest show – possibly not on earth, but definitely on the box tonight.

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