Michael Scott’s staged version of John B Keane’s epistolary novella has been an audience favourite for almost 15 years.
The latest revival, in which Mary McEvoy and Jon Kenny share the multiple roles, shows there’s life in the old show yet.
The comedy two-hander sees McEvoy and Kenny playing a host of lonely souls keen to use the services of the eponymous matchmaker, Dicky Mick Dicky O’Connor. The characters gives Kenny a chance to show his range — from the rather solemn matchmaker himself, to a fast-talking retired jockey; while McEvoy is best as the irrepressible two-time widow Fionnuala Crust.
The frequent applause that greets their pieces has McEvoy sushing the crowd: “We’ll be here all night.” It’s an improvisation that speaks to the connection the performers make and their comfort with the material.
The play’s frankness around sexuality, particularly female, was doubtless more refreshing when Ronnie Masterson and Ray McAnally first took the roles in 1975, but what has aged less well are Keane’s storylines: a fat Turk who crushes her husband in his sleep, an Anglo-Irish gent seeking a lovely boy, a desperate Clareman threatening self-immolation, dropped trousers in a pub snug, dosing a reluctant wife with poitin. It all veers close to Carry On at times, with all those off-colour attitudes to race and sexuality.
Despite that, Keane’s keen ear rescues the play. The turns of phrase, metaphors and endless stream of earthy similes are a testament to an extinct oral culture, an echo of English as it was once spoken in Ireland (ironically rendered in epistolary form).
While Keane shows you can preserve colourful speech in letters, it’s more difficult to resurrect those words for the stage. There, the words need action and direction, and that is lacking, hampered by the play’s two-hander, back-and-forth nature, which, despite several deviations, is dramatically inert.