Michael Stranney plays the loveable yet slow-witted comic creation Daniel Duffy, who is delivering a multimedia presentation on behalf of the Ballybeg tourist board to drum up some business in the area. And so begins our weird and wonderful guided tour of Duffy's small Northern Irish village.
It soon becomes apparent that the BBQ-crossed-with-projector (long story) is not in a very sporting mood, and while we wait for it to load up, Daniel begins the first of his many tangents. He details some very Ballybeg-specific goings-on with a number of inter-connected characters, often spoken of in a way that assumes the audience already knows who he’s is on about. Stranney plays the part so well you could be forgiven for not realising this is a character.
As the presentation video splutters and stalls, our host soldiers on, letting us in on the all the must-see tourist attractions (the corner shop on the roundabout, the very popular speed camera, the man who lives in a phonebox). It's a brilliantly believable made-up world reminiscent of Father Ted and the works of Flann O'Brien, full of quirky, offbeat Irish humour, accessible enough to have a wide-ranging demographic in fits of laughter from start to finish. In the words of one man in the audience, “that is how you do comedy.” (Mind you, it's worth noting that a device like the projector's loading screen is a big risk, if you haven't got a character as beguiling as Daniel Duffy to keep us from counting down the clock.)
Stranney plays with the idea of the presentation-gone-wrong so expertly that it never feels forced – and the jokes keep coming. As Daniel attempts to solve the technical issues with the aid of a helpline back in Ballybeg, it’s almost like he is just riffing on the spot. Yet the structure is tight and the punchlines are beautifully subtle, to the point that some take a moment to sink in, which makes it all the funnier to hear audience members catching on at different times.
But the real joy of the show is the depth of the ludicrous mundanity of day-to-day life in this topsy-turvy town. The oddball cast of characters is fleshed out through a series of ridiculous anecdotes, as we learn the history of the place, its people, and the Duffy family. And threaded throughout is a heart-breaking love story that makes us root for Daniel himself.
Thanks to Stranney's inventiveness, and his ability to conjure the images of Ballybeg through Duffy's gift of the gab (and dancing feet of course), you can see this place somewhere along the backroads of the Irish countryside and you leave wanting to visit. There is so much scope for material in this alternate reality of Stranney's that it would be frankly be surprising and disappointing to not hear more about Ballybeg in the near future