The Late Late Toy Show review: If you didn’t cry a little, you must be made of Lego

It isn’t about the toys or Broadway routines, but it’s the most watched programme in Ireland

Ed Sheeran was offered feedback from one of his backing singers on RTÉ's The Late Late Toy Show. Video: RTÉ/ The Late Late Toy Show

 

It’s just past midnight, and Ed Sheeran is drawing a child’s face using a pen attached to his nose. Either a rift has opened in the space-time continuum or it’s the Late Late Toy Show 2021 (RTÉ One, 9.35pm).

Sheeran is the surprise guest at the end of a marathon evening of toys, songs and Ryan Tubridy dressed as a meerkat. “You know what, this is my first time watching it in full,” says Ireland’s second favourite male singer (let’s be honest - we were all secretly hoping for Garth Brooks). “I love all the costumes you’ve done.”

Ed the Red has popped in to sing his song Leave Your Life with a kids’ choir from Cork. Then he sits down with Tubridy and two child rappers for a game of “Pencil Nose”.

It’s an appropriately bonkers end to a Toy Show that, as per its Lion King theme, swings, whooping-monkey style from hilarity to absurdity and all the way back (and that’s just Tubridy’s outfits).

The Toy Show started off as Gay Byrne in a festive jumper trying to understand the appeal of Cabbage Patch Kids. Today it has become RTÉ’s big show-piece - Irish television’s answer to the Oscars and the John Lewis ad rolled into one.

And, as the nation gathers for a rare shared moment in a world of binge viewing, Toy Show 2021 opens with a pre-recorded segment in Canon Mooney Gardens in Ringsend, Dublin, where a little girl listens to Wham’s Last Christmas and then dons a colourful head-dress in tribute to Disney’s the Lion King

Then the camera moves outside, where more children are hanging about. Don’t worry – they aren’t Dickensian scamps up to late night mischief. They’re Toy Show Kids (from the Spotlight Stage School). Oh and there’s Ryan Tubridy, wearing a flatcap and carrying a ladder. So he’s dressed as a …handyman? From the 1950s?

The logic behind his wardrobe is never unpacked as we instead whiz over to Montrose Studio Four. And now Tubridy is done up like a sort of meerkat and is emerging from beneath a row of giant nodding giraffes to the strains of The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

With this, the Toy Show starts in earnest. You can travel the world, meet strange and interesting people – but only on RTÉ in late November will you encounter a middle-aged man done up like a member of the mongoose family leading a dozen children through a repertoire of wild-life based songs.

If you’re playing a Toy Show drinking game, feel free to drain the entire bottle immediately. It’s not even 10pm and already we’ve achieved Peak Festive Tubridy.

“The children of Ireland have taken over,” says the presenter, recovering his breath and swapping the animal outfit for a festive shirt. “There’s no telling what could happen here tonight. There is magic in the air, is there not? You are invited to stay and play with us for as long as you want.”

Opening sequence. Photograph: Andres Poveda
Callum (11) & Jackson Kieran (5) from Finglas Dublin on The Late Late Toy Show 2021. Photograph: Andres Poveda

Having fronted the Xmas showpiece across the past 12 years, Tubridy is a veteran of Toy Shows, naff sweaters and hyper-specific Disney homages. So he is elementally in his element as he bounds among the soft toys and stacks of children’s books.

This host of Christmas present seems determined, moreover, to live up to his promise to banish memories of the past 18 months of lockdowns. The Toy Show Appeal is back as well, having raised €6.6 million for charities last year. Donations pour in tonight, seemingly causing the Revolut app to crash.

Heartstrings are tugged. Finn Ryan (8) from Waterford shares his Lego collection before revealing he has recovered from cancer. Tubridy invites him to ring a bell marking his illness-free status. This is followed by a second musical number – a performance of Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight, accompanied by footage of children in hospital with parents and medical staff. If you’re not misting up you’re probably made of Lego yourself.

There is also a procession of kids behind the wheels of miniature Vespas, tractors and so forth. One of the drivers, Feargal, exits his vehicle and then sings Ave Maria in Italian. Over his shoulder, a child DJ named Calum gasps in astonishment - and an instant meme is born.

Along with Sheeran there is a another celebrity guest in gold medallist boxer Kellie Harrington. The nearly two-and-a-half-hour broadcast also has space for a black and white set-piece in which Tubridy mimes to a Harry Styles song from the Dublin Olympia.

Every country has its quirks, and the Toy Show is surely one of Ireland’s most idiosyncratic. It isn’t really about the toys (for in-depth reviews, stick to YouTube) while the Broadway routines will blow nobody away.

Nonetheless, this hodgepodge of public service tinsel-fest, am-dram song and dance revue and Tubridy firing all the torpedoes has become the most watched occasion in Irish broadcasting. And in 2021, with its Lion King branding front and centre, it leaps out roaring. Followed by Ed Sheeran doing much the same.

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