Corruption and ignorance stalk the land in Murphy, Gordon and Mitchell's end of year review
I hate going to the theatre on my own. There’s the moment when the box office attendant tears off and retains your plus one. There’s the awkward small talk with people you half recognise and may have slagged off, constructively, in previous reviews.
On this occasion, one of the show's writing triumvirate, comedian Colin Murphy, is sitting directly behind me, intensely chewing gum. I once made some disparaging remarks about his trousers in a review, and while he has probably not let those unkind words ruin his life, you never know what’s going to rankle with people. He might have really loved those trousers.
Anyway... as The Rat Pack croons us into a roasty-toasty Christmas vibe, we take our seats. The stage is bare save for a drum-kit and a tinselly keyboard. Plumes of dry ice, tinted a festive green, billow into the footlights in front of a backdrop that looks like a cubist maple leaf rendered in brick.
The MGM logo – a three headed dog, standing for writers Murphy, Dan Gordon and Gary Mitchell – is projected onto the back of the stage, and the first mention of 'flegs' comes before anyone has trodden a board.
The cast appear suddenly, dressed in Blues Brothers motley and pounding out a Billy Joel-style litany of the past year's events as a sort of primer cum digest of the show. It’s a strangely old fashioned introduction; the adjective 'Stilgoesque' flits through my brain like a nervous moth. Luckily it’s soon over and I unclench.
We’re straight into the main story of the evening. Polish (by way of Torremolinos, judging by his accent) Artur the Porter (Chris Robinson), alumnus of last year’s installation of the Forget Turkey series, is no longer working in a hospital.
Instead, he has taken a position at moribund supermarket Foodsales, alongside cleaner Bridie (Jo Donnely) – catchphrase: 'I’ve eight weeuns, a dog and a mother in law: I’m an expert in shite!' – and Pregnant June (Maria Connolly).
There is something for everyone in these sequences; the narrative proves to be remarkably malleable. There is sign-of-the-times satire – 'Are you going back to Poland for Christmas, Artur?' 'Have you been reading the graffiti on my door?' – farce, a poignant bit with a lonely widower, surrealism (Stephen Nolan lampooned as Jabba the Hutt, clutching a microphone and a packet of Tayto), and it all ends in a lovely big sing-a-long.
Initially, tonight's audience are wary of the pantomimic call and response aspect of the show, but the riotous enthusiasm of the cast soon erodes their reticence. Resistance is futile – they will use any and all means to make you laugh, and they have a large arsenal at their disposal.
The fourth wall is routinely breached, sweets are handed out. Michael Condron’s 'The Smoker' character – a lone voice of sanity on a mobility scooter and drip – regularly petitions the audience to 'raise your hand if…' as a prelude to asking them something they won’t want to admit to. The cast are all brilliant and the show bounds along borne up by their energy and commitment.
The pre-filmed video sketches suffer by comparison, obviously lacking the actor’s immediacy. Pastiches of pay day loan companies and niche dating agencies seem particularly slight in this context. If the Mrs Brown’s Boys pastiche doesn’t work it is because it isn’t a pastiche – it’s worryingly close to Mrs Brown’s Boys.
Here, there is no ironic distance; the audience laugh at the same jokes, performed in the same manner, in precisely the same way as they would do for the real deal. In a way it is a testament to the quality of the writing on that show – it is beyond parody.
Forget Turkey (We Liked It So Much We're Going to Phuket Again), to give this show its full title, is knockabout stuff, sabre-rattling at the great and not particularly good of Northern Irish society, politics, arts et cetera. What we have here are the king’s fools, court jesters allowed to say the unsayable by the simple expedient of making us laugh.
When the world of our politics is so grotesque – when business and the arts are carved up into personal fiefdoms – corruption, nepotism and ignorance stalk the land. When Christmas shopping is constantly interrupted by protesting and bomb scares, somebody needs to be pointing to the Emperor’s new feet of clay.
So I welcome Forget Turkey, and would like to see it installed as a Christmas tradition after the manner of the ghost stories of MR James. What are we left with at the end of the evening (apart from streaming mascara and tired stomach muscles)? A load of old Yorricks, of course, and that’s no bad thing, just as long as MGM’s three-headed dog isn’t given the snip.
Forget Turkey (We Liked It So Much We're Going to Phuket Again) runs in the Lyric Theatre, Belfast until January 12.