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A Toy Show like no other: Tubridy says no studio audience means he may need to 'dial up the energy'

Presenter Ryan Tubridy said they’ll acknowledge the pandemic on the show, but do it with “a twist of seasonal silliness”.

RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy dressed as the Roald Dahl character 'Mr Fox'.
RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy dressed as the Roald Dahl character 'Mr Fox'.
Image: Andres Poveda Photography

THERE IS A lot of pressure on this year’s Toy Show, and Ryan Tubridy is aware of it. 

At a virtual press conference before the show tomorrow – where Roald Dahl characters was revealed as the theme – the Late Late Show host explained how he’s nervous about not having a studio audience, not being able to hug the children if they get nervous, and revealed how it almost didn’t happen at all. 

The TV and radio presenter said that though the RTÉ team understand the need for restrictions, there was “frustration” at moving to different levels as part of the Government’s Living with Covid plan, and what that meant for the Toy Show.

“We were rolling with the punches. But we were rolling, and we were being punched, but we remain standing,” Tubridy told journalists yesterday.

Level 5 restrictions are due to end next Wednesday, and the Government is due to announce what restrictions will replace them hours before the Toy Show starts tomorrow evening.

Tubridy said the soundings from Government Buildings – “we are getting some word out from there,” he added – is that the announcement won’t “clash” with the Toy Show.

There will be no audience for RTÉ’s festive flagship show; Tubridy said this means he will “probably turn the dial up a little bit to try to keep the energy high”.

For someone who is always operates at a pretty high level of energy, this approach may come as something of a surprise.

Nevertheless, he is a bit apprehensive about it all:

I’m a little nervous about that, and I’m a little nervous about the weight of expectations on this Toy Show, because it’s just different.

“It’s a bit eerie, and a bit peculiar,” he said about their being no audience, but said that it won’t be dissimilar to his weekday radio show.

“That helped matters… This is different because it’s the Toy Show. When you’re a show-off, you do thrive on people’s laughter or mirth. I won’t have that on Friday.”

Tubridy said that living up to the expectation is “no small task”, and that parents and children around the country have sent messages of their excitement for this year’s show.

There will be an “army” of people behind the scenes making sure it’s all Covid-19 compliant, so that children can be on set for the show.

When asked by TheJournal.ie whether he was frustrated after photos emerged of RTÉ presenters not complying with social distancing rules, when such mammoth efforts were made to make the Toy Show happen, Tubridy said that he would be solely focused on the show this week, but said ‘thank you’ for the question.

The ‘wonderful’ theme

late-late-toy-show-2020 Dylan O Connor, Luke O Connor and Cillian Allen from Spotlight Stage School. Source: Andres Poveda Photography

This year’s theme is ‘The Wonderful World of Roald Dahl’, who is the author of books like Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, the Twits and Fantastic Mr Fox.

The opening musical number will feature characters from his books such as Veruca Salt, grasshoppers, The Twits, Miss Trunchbull, Charlie and Grandpa Joe, as well as Mrs Fox, the little foxes, and Badger from Fantastic Mr Fox.

Without giving too much away, there will also be a second song-and-dance number in the middle of the show. “God help you all,” Tubridy said to this.

Because there is no studio audience, it means the whole studio room will be one giant set for children to use.

There will also be “heaps” of Irish toys on the show, to help support the trend of encouraging to buy local this Christmas.

The children

late-late-toy-show-2020 Source: Andres Poveda Photography

Given how tough this year has been, Tubridy is asked if this year’s Toy Show would be tough to get the tone right: “The Toy Show has evolved into something that’s as much about toys as it is more really about children. That happened last year.” 

Last year’s show seemed more heartfelt than usual, or “particularly strong” as Tubridy put it, because of the stories the children who featured on the show told: Sophie and Sophia in particular. 

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Sophie told the story of her younger brother Cian, who is five-years-old and is in hospital receiving treatment for leukemia.

When she got a bit upset after getting a gift for her part on the show, Tubridy gave her a hug, and told her: “If I were Cian, I’d want a big sister like you.”

Source: The Late Late Show/YouTube

Another girl, Sophia, said that she is sometimes bullied for how she’s different; Ryan told her that he thought she was really cool, and to not give into the bullies.

Sophia then said to other children who might be bullied: “Don’t let the bullies stop you from doing the things that you want to do, and life would suck if everybody was the same.

They’re all at home watching me on the telly – so who’s the weirdo now?

Tubridy said that he “thought ‘oh yes’, I punched the air” when Sophia said that on last year’s show, and that children have stories that are “enormous and important”.

I think we’re equipped to handle any sadness or, or darkness if it arises – we don’t anticipate much, if any, of that.

Although there will be children in studio this Friday, and they won’t be wearing masks, they will have to stay socially distant. Tubridy said that this means he won’t be able to give them a hug if they’re “in trouble”, or hold their hand if they’re nervous.

“I’m going to have to work on my socially-distanced empathy,” he said.

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Personally, the hopes of many children and some adults in Ireland has Tubridy under pressure. During ‘Toy Show week’, his head is “like a pinball machine”.

“I needed calm and I went back to The Crown,” which Tubridy initially found “really boring”.

“Suddenly an hour of looking at London in The Fog was perfect, so I got back into that, that’s been my salve, my Salve Regina. That’s working and yeah, I’m reading crime fiction, weirdly.”

Considering the focus on Covid-19 restrictions this week, but also the presenter’s approach to creating a pandemic-free zone while presenting on TV and radio – will the Late Late Toy Show address the pandemic, or ignore it completely?

“Nearly every kid, every child who applied to be on the Toy Show acknowledged it, because they’re missing the grannies, and the missing the granddads, and they are missing their cousins in Australia and in England and in America who they should be rocking around the Christmas tree with in a few weeks time.

So, we won’t hide behind the Christmas tree on that one. But we won’t go heavy on it either because it isn’t about that… we’ll be doing it with a twist of seasonal silliness.

“Because we’re allowed. Anything goes on Toy Show night.

“I haven’t a clue what’s going to happen for most of Toy Show night. It’s a live show with children and toys – what do I know?

“I just sit there and say, ‘What have you got for me?’ And they’re running the show.

“You can’t plan madness,” he said.

The Late Late Toy Show airs tomorrow, 27 November at 9.35pm on RTÉ One.

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