Despite spending many Christmases in Ireland as a child, I didn’t become familiar with the Late Late Toy Show until this time last year. On Friday, I gathered around the telly with my friend’s family and watched the whole show for the first time. Despite hearing a couple of unsavoury opinions about the host, Ryan Tubridy, beforehand, I went into the proceedings with an open mind.
This year’s theme was The Greatest Showman. The glitzy set and intricate dance numbers lived up to the ambitious title as the show effortlessly switched between toy appraisals and musical interludes. We were treated to a wide variety of musical numbers: there was Irish dancing and trad music, a young bass player’s rendition of Le Chic, a series of ABBA medleys as well as a more questionable performance of the viral song Baby Shark. This celebration of young talent was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show, as young musicians from all over Ireland gathered to celebrate the run-up to Christmas. Despite some ambitious singing from Tubridy, the opening segment, in particular, was a smash. All of the performers were decked out in elaborate circus costumes and the studio was converted into ringmaster Tubridy’s very own Big Top.
The review section of the show came as the biggest surprise to me. As child after child came on – some cheekier than others – I became endeared with the process of children reviewing toys themselves. So many of the products marketed at children seem to miss the mark in one way or another, having the toys’ target audience say what they really think, during a live broadcast no less, felt like something I’d been missing out on in Christmases’ past.
Nothing marks the start of the Christmas season back home quite like the Toy Show does here, except perhaps for the big reveal of the John Lewis Christmas ad. Admittedly, it isn’t nearly as exciting. The importance of the Toy Show to Irish people has been explained to me and what it means to each of them, be it gathering as a family to watch it, or assembling your friends and playing an annual drinking game. The Toy Show seems to be a rite for almost anyone celebrating Christmas in Ireland.
An especially memorable moment was during the show’s book corner segment when Michael O’Brien discussed his favourite braille fact book. As a special surprise, the young boy was then greeted by his favourite GAA manager, Davy Fitzgerald. The two exchanged friendly chat before the re-composed O’Brien quipped, “I’ve your book in the back and I need you to sign it”, prompting a surprised laugh from the audience. Some of the show’s more daring participants followed suit, serving as perfect meme-bait. One boy in particular – nine-year-old Cormac from Kilkenny – showed Ryan how to floss, dab, and do the Fortnite dance in under thirty seconds. The unfiltered nature of the interactions between host Tubridy and the children is what makes the Toy Show unique and what undoubtedly draws people in to watch it year after year.
It was during some of the more emotional moments that the Late Late Toy Show really came into its own, reaching beyond its glossy, consumerist appeal to genuinely affect change in children’s lives. This year the show ended on a high by retelling the story of double cousins Grace, who is recovering from leukemia, and Scott, who donated his bone marrow to her in a life-saving operation this time last year. When interviewed about it, Scott said simply that he “wanted to save her life”. The young hero was met with applause from the audience, followed by an emotional tribute from three members of the Irish rugby team; Tadhg Furlong, Sean O’Brien, and Rob Kearney.
The spirit of Christmas is embodied by the Toy Show, which places children at its heart and presents in children’s hands; it is a show which literally keeps on giving. It starred an array of children from all over Ireland but, refreshingly, its focus was never on its own diversity. Instead, it highlighted the merit offered by individual children and concentrated on their shared love of toys.