Hole in the Wall Gang take back seat in new comedy sketch show
There are a whole bunch of cringeworthy creations coming to our screens this month in a new comedy sketch show produced by the Hole in the Wall Gang. Jenny Lee chats to Niamh McAllister and Bernadette Brown, two of the cast of fresh faces hoping to put a smile on our faces
GET ready to sit back and laugh as a whole new gang of hilarious Northern Irish characters fill our screens in the comedy sketch show Dry Your Eyes.
It has been 15 years since the Hole in the Wall Gang first brought some iconic characters to the screen with the original version of the programme.
This time the Hole in the Wall Gang are working behind the camera, mentoring up-and-coming writers and actors for the new BBC One Northern Ireland show.
In the director's chair is Michael McDowell, who also directs Give My Head Peace and plays Billy the Cop. Veteran comedian and Blame Game presenter Tim McGarry is executive producer, whilst producing is Damon Quinn, best known for his role as Cal on Give My Head Peace.
"We wanted to do something new with it. So, we held open auditions and picked the best performers and writers we could find. It's been very exciting and lots of fun to make and we hope viewers enjoy it," explains Damon.
The new on-screen cast is comprised of Niamh McAllister, Michael Stranney, Bernadette Brown, Diona Doherty and Cailum Carragher.
"In fact," adds Damon, "We managed to pick actors from five of the six counties, including Antrim, Armagh, Derry/Londonderry, Down and Fermanagh. I just hope Tyrone doesn't hold it against us..."
The 30-minute one-off show brings a fresh batch of "cringeworthy creations" who confront modern life in their own weird way.
Amongst the new band of peculiar characters are: a Belfast open-top bus tour guide 'with issues' who gets insulted at any perceived criticism of his beloved Northern Ireland; a man who is obsessed with "getting the peelers" for any trivial reason and a cop, reminiscent of Line of Duty's Superintendent Ted Hastings, who works in England and can always get confessions with his intimidating incomprehensible "Northern Irish speak".
Bangor actress Niamh McAllister was delighted to get cast in her first major television role.
Having graduated with a BA in Acting from The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Trinity College Dublin, 25-year-old Niamh has mainly worked on stage, before the Covid pandemic led her to diversify into TV and film.
Niamh was also involved in writing some of the sketches and devised her on-screen character of a woman who tries too hard and only lasts the first day in every job.
"I've had a multitude of part-time jobs, so I drew on my experience. I'm a terrible waitress; I just forget instantly what people order," she laughs.
"I also wrote the therapist sketch and the pregnancy one, where I had to eat chicken dipped in chocolate, which was terrible."
Her foray into comedy writing was instigated during last winter's lockdown when, along with her two fellow actor housemates, they started making some sketches and sharing them with friends on Instagram.
"It's almost like this show was made for me. After doing the audition I cheekily asked if they would check out my sketches and let me join the writing team as well.
"It was a very broad brief. We've moved away from the whole Catholic/Protestant and political banter, it's more about universally funny characters."
Niamh also enjoyed playing an American tourist on board an open-top bus tour, but it's the ones she wrote herself that she enjoyed filming the most: "It was so amazing to see this professional crew work on something that I came up with in my bedroom."
For north Belfast actress Bernadette Brown it was a case of her career coming full-circle as she was cast as an extra in the first original series, back in 2007.
"I think I had one line sitting at a table. I've been a huge fan of the Hole in the Wall Gang ever since I was a kid when every Friday night we would watch it, so it's great to be a part of this."
The 38-year-old admits she "never spent as much time or money" on preparing her audition tape for the show.
"I knew you needed to do something different to stand out. So I literally went to town with all the different characters, with lots of different outfits, hair dos and make-up."
Amongst the roles Bernadette plays is the ex-wife inside the Alexa voice service, and the needy check-out assistant who is heartbroken if she thinks the store loyalty card is 'spurned' by a customer.
Bernadette admits she drew upon some real-life heartache, from ex-boyfriends to the loss of loved ones whilst portraying the characters she played.
"I've had plenty of tragedies which I bring out in the comedy. I lost my parents at a young age and didn't get a chance to go to drama school or anything and I do believe life experiences can really help you go to places emotionally."
Bernadette, who studied drama at Queen's University, has over 17 years' experience in TV and theatre and most recently could be seen on our screens in the CBBC drama Secret Life of Boys and the Uberto Pasolini film Nowhere Special.
Both girls are hopeful that following this pilot, a new series of Dry Your Eyes will be developed.
"The dialect is uniquely ours, but anyone in the world could watch it and relate to it," adds Bernadette.
Niamh agrees that with references to technology and social media, not to mention the sketch depicting the confusion over various coloured refuse collections, Dry Your Eyes, is a refreshing new sketch show.
"We've still got the larger-than-life costumes and make-up, but it feels very modern now."
The third female cast member is Derry actress and comedian Diona Doherty, who is now a regular on topical panel show The Blame Game.
So have Bernadette or Niamh any ambitions to follow in her footsteps into stand-up?
"You need to have a special talent, confidence and quick comeback to do stand up and Diona is amazing doing it," says Niamh.
As well as a small role in Lorcan Finnegan's upcoming Irish psychological thriller Nocebo, alongside French actress Eva Green, Niamh is excited to be working on her own short dark comedy.
As for Bernadette, she's dreaming of future Oscar success.
"I have a short film coming out with Gary McKendry who was over from New York during the summer. He was nominated for an Oscar for his short Everything in This Country Must and he's got great hopes for this.
"He's worked with the likes of Robert De Niro, so it was mind-blowing to be filming with him in the middle of where I grew up in north Belfast."
"It's very exciting to see where that is going to go. Could you imagine if I ended up in the Oscars," she enthuses.
"What wig would you wear?," pipes in Niamh?
Her quick response is "definitely Maureen", referring to the fellow American tourist she played on the tour bus in the sketch show.
Dry Your Eyes will be broadcast on Monday January 10, BBC One Northern Ireland at 10.35pm and will also be available on BBC iPlayer.