Famous Northern Ireland comedy duo Conor Grimes and Alan McKee are well-known for their annual festive show powered by the on-stage chemistry that comes with over a decade of working together; they share an innate sense of how to tickle each other’s funny bones, an intuitive sense of comic timing. McKee describes them as sharing an “almost telepathic understanding of each other”.
This year’s madcap Christmas show is an inventive retelling of the 1946 classic film starring Jimmy Stewart and about the angel Clarence struggling to gain his wings. This revamped send-up, also starring Belfast actress Katie Tumelty, is now titled, with typical Ulster colloquialism, It’s A Wonderful Life So It Is.
“We got together and thought, what would a Belfast version of this story be like? And we saw a huge potential for humour.
“We’re having a Christmas savings club at the centre of this which all goes typically belly-up. And George has become Georgie, played by Katie Tumelty.
“Conor and I are playing everyone else from the angel Gabriel, to Georgie’s guardian Angel, her husband and her children.
“Conor plays Clarty who is trying to earn his wings; he is a very Tyrone angel, a celestial being from deepest, darkest Tyrone.”
Aided by wigs, hats and voice changes, the pair will eschew hectic costume changes and rely on their thespian skill to convey the full panoply of 40 characters. Hang on: Grimes and McKee playing 40 characters between them? Really? The potential for bedlam sounds high.
MeKee laughs: “It’s all fine when we’re writing it. Then when we break it down and get to rehearsals we end up stressed, sweating, wondering why we agreed to play so many different characters.”
Do Conor and Alan find it hard not to perpetually burst into peals of laughter during rehearsals?
“We love to keep surprising each other and when we make each other laugh we’re like ‘keep that - that’s great’. I especially find it hard not to laugh when playing a Mrs McCloud who decides to open the first tanning salon in west Belfast - and everyone thinks she’s crazy...little do they know that fortune will be on her side. Carmen Miranda would be jealous of her head-piece.”
So they are stearing clear of politics altogether? “Well we have had to mention flags, because that appears to be a Christmas thing now,” laughs Alan, and sadly he seems to be right.“We also note that the PSNI seem to be pretty busy at this time of year and we play songs like Whole Lotta Rosie by AC/DC.”
Sounds like a fast-paced retelling of a Christmas classic via Tyrone, with dodgy accents and an impossible number of wig changes.
Grand Opera House, Belfast, until December 29. Visit www.goh.co.uk or call 02890 241919.