Arts

A Mungo merry Christmas from Grimes and McKee

Grimes & McKee are bringing their comic tale of the worst Gaelic team in Ireland to the Opera House in Belfast for a three-night pre-Christmas run next week. They talk to Brian Campbell

Grimes and McKee bring St Mungo's Luganulk to the Grand Opera House in Belfast from December 17 to 19. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE GRAND Opera House in Belfast might have to be renamed the Grand Auld Apry (GAA) next week when Grimes & McKee bring their Gaelic football-based comedy show to the famous venue.

The duo have been touring their comic (and fictional) tale about “the worst team in Ireland” since last autumn and now they’re donning their distinctive brown, yellow and green St Mungo’s jerseys and heading for a three-night stint at the Opera House.

They’ll be offering a Christmas party with a difference as they tread the boards at 10pm (following the Snow White pantomime each evening).

“We accidentally found ourselves being trailblazers a number of years ago when we did our first proper Christmas show for grown-ups – Plucked and Stuffed – at the Lyric Theatre,” says Grimes. “Then we did a string of those shows after that. They caught fire and there’s a lot of them on now, so our next idea was to do a later show. People are always really up for it.”

“We’re doing our bit to try and Europeanise Belfast,” adds McKee. “To make us a bit more continental – not in the sense of the continental shantytown outside the City Hall, but in terms of going out. You can go out and meet your friends and have something to eat and then come and see our show.”

McKee jokes that he does plan to head to the “Christmas shantytown” market at City Hall to “eat my bodyweight in frankfurters”. And while he says he’s not the biggest fan of Christmas, he thinks people will be in a festive good mood when they go along to see St Mungo’s Luganulk.

“It’s a show at Christmas as opposed to a Christmas show. It’s just a good laugh at Christmas,” he says. “If you come to our show, you sit and enjoy yourself so you’re giving yourself a wee present.”

Grimes says they haven’t felt the need to add in any Christmas bits to the show for the Opera House run.

“We first did the show in September last year and when we did it last Christmas in the Wellington Park Hotel [in Belfast] we didn’t change anything and people seemed to find it very Christmassy. It’s a feelgood story.”

The show is about a Gaelic football club who are rooted to the bottom of Division 4. They haven’t won in years, but things turn around when Barry Maguire returns home from London and gets a colourful bunch of players together – including a couple of Polish recruits – and somehow inspires the team to an All-Ireland Final.

While Grimes used to play Gaelic for his local team Donaghmore, McKee wouldn’t call himself a GAA fan and says, jokingly, “Growing up on the Bushmills Road in Coleraine, the GAA was a massive, massive thing. When we were writing the show, I was able to keep Conor right on some of the finer points of the game.”

Grimes says it was a big advantage in writing the piece that McKee wasn’t a 'GAA nerd’ like himself.

“We write everything together and Alan would say 'That’s boring, don’t put that in’. It’s based on the story of a club that didn’t win for six-and-a-half years, so that fascinated, amused and haunted us – especially the half-time team talks. There’s a bit of Beckett in there.”

“You don’t need to know anything about Gaelic football to enjoy it,” says McKee. “It’s about a community and craic and a terrible team. If you’ve ever been a member of anything that had a committee, you’ll see a lot of stuff that you’re recognise.”

For St Mungo’s, their losing streak has become infamous, nobody is buying the fundraising lotto tickets or going to matches any more, and then injuries and sickness keep depleting the team.

“We actually sat down to write a comedy show about global war,” says McKee. “So now it’s about two neighbouring villages who hate each other. They can’t actually go to war, but they can do it on a football field.”

And rather than returning to their 'war show’ idea, Grimes & McKee will be back at the Opera House in April with a show about peace – The History of the Peace (Accordin’ to My Ma). They are writing it with playwright Martin Lynch as the follow-up to their hugely popular The History of the Troubles (Accordin' to My Da).

But for now, the pair are looking forward to the St Mungo’s shows next week and to celebrating Christmas. Yet McKee insists the Christmas season doesn’t begin until he puts his tree up – “which is as late as possible”.

He does admit, though, that he likes a bit of Last Christmas by Wham and Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin’ Stevens.

Grimes’s favourite festive songs are Fairytale of New York and All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey. “I hate the Slade one SO much,” he says.

He plans to try a brand new Christmas drink this year – one that he has just dreamt up: “Hot Guinness with cloves”.

:: St Mungo’s Luganulk, the Grand Opera House, Belfast, Thursday December 17 to Saturday December 19 (at 10pm) (Tickets: goh.co.uk / 028 9024 1919). St Mungo’s jerseys are available to buy from Begley’s Sports, Dungannon; proceeds go to The Cormac Trust, set up after the sudden death of Tyrone Gaelic footballer Cormac McAnallen in 2004.

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