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Irish show set in New York's Central Park at Christmas coming to Bradford

There’s lots of singing and dancing
There’s lots of singing and dancing

WHAT do you do if you want to take the family to the theatre at Christmas when the kids have outgrown panto?

If you’re Ged Graham, you invent a new theatrical genre.

The creator of Seven Drunken Nights - the story of the Irish band, the Dubliners - had time to ponder the problem when lockdown meant that no one was going to the theatre at all.

His solution? Fairytale of New York, an evening of Irish song and dance mixed with classic Christmas songs and much-loved carols.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The show promises to be magical
Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The show promises to be magical

“The star of the show is the show itself,” says Ged, 62.

“There are no big names in the production.”

Set in Central Park New York on Christmas Eve, the musical content embraces everything from Last Christmas and Driving Home For Christmas to Silent Night, White Christmas and, of course, the title song itself.

The remaining shows will be all the more poignant following the death of The Pogues’ frontman Shane MacGowan on Thursday.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: There’s lots of singing and dancing
Bradford Telegraph and Argus: There’s lots of singing and dancing

Ged was born in Dublin but moved to Manchester when he was 10.

“But I’ve never lost my love of Irish music. Under the umbrella title of The Pogues’ famous song, I decided to put together a festive show with an Irish theme.”

In between the singalong songs, there’s a good dose of hard-shoe Irish dancing popularised in the UK via Riverdance as well as something more soft-shoe, says Ged.

“There’s contemporary jazz and pop numbers, too, all of it in the capable hands (and feet) of a cast of 11: six dancers, four musicians and one female singer."

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The reaction to the show has been incredible
Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The reaction to the show has been incredible

Ged launched the show in October 2021 at Darlington Hippodrome.

“It was nerve-wracking. I could have lost my shirt and then my house very quickly.

“There was also the spectre of Covid casting a long shadow so we had no real way of knowing whether audiences would be happy to come to a theatre again.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: It’s set in Central Park in New York
Bradford Telegraph and Argus: It’s set in Central Park in New York

Rehearsals were problematic, too.

“Almost all of the preparation was done via Zoom and Skype, not ideal when you’re putting together a song-and-dance show.”

And Covid also meant certain restrictions for audiences and performers alike.

“There was one show in Scotland where the cast had to be socially distanced. It meant dancing no closer than a metre apart. That was certainly a challenge.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The show will get you in the festive mood
Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The show will get you in the festive mood

“But we found out very quickly via social media that we had a hit on our hands.”

Advance ticket sales were so strong that several venues across the country sold out.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say we get standing ovations after every performance,” says Ged.

“But then, my ambition from the start was to provide two hours of much-needed escapism.”

And you’re more likely to experience it in a theatre, he argues, than via any other art form.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: There’s a cast of 11
Bradford Telegraph and Argus: There’s a cast of 11

“When you go to the theatre, you’re part of the event in a way that you aren’t in a cinema.”

Nor does the show remain unchanged each year.

This year includes a Ronettes medley, including some Irish songs.

Last year, there was a big production of the John Lennon song, Merry Christmas, War Is Over.

“The reaction was incredible,” says Ged.

“So much so that, this year, we’re making it a multi-vocal ensemble piece rather than a solo.

“We encourage the audience to sing along because it’s their Christmas show.”

But there’s a potential danger in that.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The show has an Irish theme
Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The show has an Irish theme

There have been any number of stories recently of shows being ruined for most of the audience when over-enthusiastic theatregoers have been drowning out the singer on stage.

Ged is aware of the pitfalls.

“Our show is deliberately designed with peaks and troughs in terms of the musical numbers because, that way, you can influence an audience.”

Ged appeared in the show back in 2021 and 2022 as principal singer and narrator.

This year, he is dividing his time between the two tours and making sure everything is running to plan.

The first tour, which kicked off in Southport at the end of October, is playing 45 different venues - and that’s not including matinees. It will finish in Derry on December 22.

The second tour opened in Peterborough on November and played three weeks in the UK, before moving to Norway.

It will return to the UK to finish just before Christmas.

Ged has been in the business for the better part of 50 years, he says.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The show will run on December 6 in Bradford
Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The show will run on December 6 in Bradford

Even so, there is no way he could have predicted the runaway success of, first, Seven Drunken Nights, and now Fairytale of New York.

“During lockdown, there was absolutely no guarantee that theatres would ever re-open.

“I was approaching my 60th birthday and I honestly doubted I’d ever step back on a stage. “Then, given that audiences might venture out again, would they like a Christmas show with a strong Irish theme?”

But he needn’t have worried.

Ged says in areas where there is typically a greater concentration of Irish people - for example in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, the reception is “a bit more vocal, let’s say”.

The show will run in Bradford on Wednesday, December 6.

For tour details: www.fairytaleofnewyork.co.uk or visit: www.bradford-theatres.co.uk

  • All pictures courtesy of Prestige Productions