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Toy Show the Musical: Damning report lays bare culture of dysfunction among RTÉ management

Report reveals how RTÉ presented the stage show flop as a ‘fait accompli’ to its own board

The best musicals swim in merchandise: songbooks, souvenir programmes, cast recordings, mugs. A damning auditor’s report is not usually part of the range.

The glaring absence of razzle-dazzle throughout Grant Thornton’s 69-page investigation into Toy Show the Musical indicates RTÉ is not pioneering a new genre here. You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Proper Risk Assessment is not a classic in waiting. Send in the Clowns (and the Forensic Accountants Too) will not prompt a standing ovation anywhere soon.

Instead, what we have from Paul Jacobs – the Grant Thornton partner tasked with reviewing the situation – is dispassionate confirmation that there’s no business like Montrose business, no flop like an RTÉ flop.

Producing new musicals is a famously risky endeavour, even on Broadway and in the West End – the sort of elite commercial environments RTÉ imagined it could emulate one dismal December in Dublin.


RTÉ wanted its production to “serve a total audience of 107,730″. Instead, it sold just 11,044 tickets. It said with “no objective justification” that the musical’s sponsorship income was €120,000, when it was actually €45,000.

And, crucially, it claimed that it could make a net profit of €1.22 million on tickets from a sold-out run of 54 shows. Instead, it sold tickets for just 41 shows, 14 of which were later cancelled, while one of the remaining 27 shows that went ahead was a charity event. The total loss – newly swelled by Grant Thornton’s discovery of €70,000 in “additional costs” – ran to €2.27 million.

Although seven performances were cancelled mid-run after illness spread through the young cast, at no point did the number of shows on sale to the public reach the volume initially stated in internal presentations. This, says Jacobs, “represented a significant risk that Toy Show the Musical would not break even”.

His report spells out a culture of dysfunctional communications between RTÉ management and members of its board.

Jacobs writes that it was suggested to him that the board, then chaired by Moya Doherty, gave “implicit approval” to Toy Show the Musical at its meeting of April 28th, 2022, but that some board members described an oral presentation about the musical on that date as a “fait accompli”.

They had a valid reason to feel that way, as this meeting took place nine days after RTÉ signed a contract with Convention Centre Dublin, its over-ambitious and ill-suited choice of venue.

Recollections may vary. But the blunt conclusions of this report are that board approval was required under RTÉ's own corporate governance rules and that the minutes of the board meetings yield no evidence that such approval was ever given.

The board members, for their part, did not subsequently raise concerns about the issue of approval when it became apparent that the musical was proceeding.

Not everyone within RTÉ or working with RTÉ on the project was a cheerleader for it. But this unease was, it seems, either lost in the chorus of enthusiasm from those pushing it or vocalised at a stage when RTÉ could not stop the train without losing face.

One individual referred to as “Person 6″ told Jacobs he believed the public reaction to the ticket launch on May 19th had been “lacklustre” and asked an RTÉ executive involved in the musical if the show might be pulled. Former director general Dee Forbes – who did not participate in the review – had a different take, however. “Sales are good,” she informed the board on May 26th.

The main worries percolating around RTÉ, according to some of the anonymised interviewees, were not about audience numbers or “the financials”, but the quality of the creative project. If it wasn’t up to scratch, the production might “damage” the brand of the Late Late Toy Show, which is both RTÉ's biggest television broadcast and its most sentimentalised.

Toy Show The Musical. Photograph: Ste Murray

The popularity of the Toy Show among young viewers is probably enough to explain why the broadcaster – keen to build up annual event revenue – went down its ill-fated, ill-conceived musical path. But, as this report makes clear, the risks were obvious and the maths dubious all along.

Siún Ní Raghallaigh, who succeeded Doherty as chair of the RTÉ board in November 2022, has now apologised for the “significant lapse in oversight”. She also said the relationship between the board and RTÉ's executive team had been “redefined” and expressed “every confidence” in the board members from this period who are still serving on it.

Toy Show the Musical isn’t the first stage musical to fail, nor will it be the last. But it is precisely because of the notorious difficulty of making money out of them that proper controls should have been in place and adhered to by RTÉ.

Instead, what we had was a case of Anything Goes and Any Dream Will Do, as the broadcaster – forgetting it has Half a Sixpence to its name – suddenly decided to become a Big Spender in a part of the entertainment industry it knows nothing about.

There will be no calls for an encore.

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