Grimes and McKee's Bah Humbug! a Belfast Christmas Carol with a 'really scary dance'
Grimes and McKee are back at the Lyric theatre in Belfast this festive season with their own particular take on a Dickens Christmas classic, writes Gail Bell
A "SCARY song" and "really, really scary dance" are, apparently, two of the more unexpected highlights in Bah, Humbug!, a new Belfast version of Charles Dickens's classic tale, A Christmas Carol, on stage at The Lyric.
Well-known double act Conor Grimes and Alan McKee have returned to the theatre with their own, modern-day take on what must be one of the most emotionally charged festive stories of all time.
It's high spirits all the way in this reworked tale, as Ebeneezer Scrooge (Michael Condron), "the richest property developer in Belfast" is also the most tight-fisted.
When Scrooge has an unsettling visit from his former ‘dead’ business partner, Jacob Marley (Alan McKee), who along with ‘Scary Biscuit’ spirits ( Sophie Harkness and Roisin Gallagher) show him the error of his ways, it's maybe time to re-evaluate and consider the important things in life...
For Grimes, who, as well as co-writing the script, stars as Scrooge's underpaid employee, Bob Cratchitt, Bah, Humbug! has been a labour of love and he pays due homage to the "brilliant" author of the original tale.
"I always read a lot of Dickens and I think his Christmas Carol story, which is more of a novella, really, is a true work of genius," says the actor and writer who studied English at Queen's.
"I get quite passionate about it when I think of just how clever the story really is and every night I feel the emotion all over again on stage. It is such a brilliant story of redemption; a story of a man whose very soul is at stake and who requires the fright of his life to see how he needs to change.
"But, it is also an uplifting story and and the audience can feel the emotional depth. One moment, there is a great laugh and the next, there is a shift of mood. Michael [Condron] has really captured the range of emotions and has invested so much in getting the balance just right, in getting the audience to feel for his character."
Along with fear, joy and slapstick, there is also some musical nostalgia when the Ghost of Christmas Past returns to a disco scene in the 80s – with "big feature song", Only You by Yazoo – and a glance back to a more troubled Northern Ireland.
"That was our past, so we wanted to include a reference," says co-writer Alan McKee, who has been having a "lot of fun" on stage with his character, Jacob Marley.
"I also play the Ghost of Christmas Present and a school bully among other things, so there are lots of quick changes back stage," he adds. "We have a small cast of only seven, so there is usually a good unscripted play going on behind the curtain as well as up front.
"Essentially, though, we have kept to Mr Dickens's great structure and his quintessential Christmas story – with a few 'Belfastisms' thrown in. There is a universal message which transcends time and place: be nice to your fellow humans."
Directed by Frankie McCafferty, Bah, Humbug! has a few surprises too – including a "spectacular Christmas present", unveiled in the final scene.
"I'm not saying what it is, except to say it is indeed spectacular," teases McKee, who believes the show offers "something a wee bit different" from the usual panto format.
"We have been getting a lot of positive reaction from people and it's brilliant to think we have been part of their Christmas night out. That's a great feeling."
:: Bah, Humbug! runs at the Lyric theatre until January 5 (Recommended age 14+). Details and booking at lyrictheatre.co.uk