Arts

The nativity retold in Grimes and McKee Christmas comedy

Kerry Quinn (Mary) tries to reason with her donkey at the Lyric Theatre's The Nativity: What the Donkey Saw

DON'T worry – Grimes and McKee's take on the nativity won't invoke cringeworthy memories of tea-towel-clad wise men in school nativities. Rather they promise laughter, anachronisms, mobile phones and a reference to Donald Trump.

In retelling story of the birth Jesus, the seasonal comedy seeks to answer some 2,000-year-old questions: why didn’t Joseph book a room in advance? Would the wise men not have been wiser to club together and buy the kid a high-chair? What did the donkey see and why was he looking?

First written and performed in 2004, this production has been revised and brought up to date for a new run at Belfast's Lyric Theatre. Keeping the reigns on Conor Grimes and Alan McKee, who also star in the play as shepherds, wise men and Roman centurions, is director Frankie McCafferty.

"I've worked with them a good few times, we have such an experienced cast you could near let them do their own thing. It's a big show, with 14 numbers and lots of scenes and costumes changes," says McCafferty, who says the logistics and technical aspects of the show are the most challenging.

"There are some new songs and references to recent political events, but being in the new Lyric, there is greater ability to do things such as a flying heavenly angel."

So is the donkey underrated in the nativity story?

"I don't want to give away too much but the gag that runs through the show is that Mary and Joseph haven't the money to get a decent donkey, so they are sold a new breed called a Hyonki from Korea."

And will a real donkey be joining the cast on stage? "No, no, no. Never work with children and animals," McCafferty laughs.

Belfast actress Kerri Quinn plays a contemporary Mary. "She is certainly a Mary with more attitude than we are used to," says McCafferty.

Joseph is played by Terry Keeley who, like Kerri, is also a strong singer.

"As it happens they are really good friends and the on-stage chemistry between them is great. They bring a reality to the characters."

Audiences are sure to recognise many familiar Christmas tunes, albeit with different lyrics. They will also recognise the voice of the narrator, God, as that of TV presenter Pamela Ballentine. "That's a little nod to the feminist movement," the Donegal man says.

"It's guaranteed good craic. It reminds me of the great Morecambe & Wise Show. This wasn't a great year in many respects, so this is the perfect antidote to it," adds McCafferty, who as an actor reprises his role in historical drama television series Vikings in the new year.

:: The Nativity: What the Donkey Saw continues at Belfast's Lyric Theatre until January 14. Lyrictheatre.co.uk.

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Arts