The Matchmaker – Gaiety Theatre – Review
Dates: 5th Nov. – 10th Nov.
Dicky Mick Dicky O’Connor (Jon Kenny) is a Kerryman who has an unusual talent; he is a Matchmaker. For those of an age more familiar with the workings of Tinder, a Matchmaker is an individual skilled in introducing men and women for the purposes of marriage. His clients are a collection of individuals who have not found love for whatever reason! Some were just unlucky whereas others failed because of some personal trait. One individual has a wooden leg and another is 22 stone! We get to hear from a variety of his clients as they send letters to Dicky either asking for his help or complaining about the results of his work! We also hear the contents of his letters to his sister Marge in Philadelphia which contain his private thoughts and other information about his life.
The play is based on a novella by John B Keane called ‘Letters Of A Matchmaker’. It was first adapted for the stage in 1975 by John B Keane himself. This adaptation is by Phyllis Ryan and has two cast members with Jon Kenny playing the Matchmaker, along with a variety of his male clients. Mary McEvoy plays all the female roles including Dicky’s sister Marge in America. The play is epistolary, with the letters forming the bulk of the text and there is very little interaction between the two actors on stage.
The play is firmly fixed in a rural setting, in Ireland of the 1970s. As is clear from the start, this is a very different time and place. The world of political correctness has yet to arrive and people are seen to have one aim: to get married! The novella was considered quite shocking when it was first published due to its discussion of sexual relations between couples but by modern standards, it is relatively quaint.
The stage has two small tables where the actors sit. Each actor takes on a multitude of roles, as we see different segments of rural life represented. Jon Kenny is in his element with the variety of farmers and other rural dwellers he portrays. He has a gift with accents and each character is easily identifiable from their stance and voice. I was quite surprised by Mary McEvoy as she is an impressive comic talent in her own right, and creates a world of mealy-mouthed women out to get their man!
The first Act is quite frivolous but after the interval, the play adds depth and shows the characters in a new light. There is no cohesive story arc, instead, we get a series of vignettes which give an insight into a multitude of lives, all wanting the same thing! This is not John B Keane’s finest work and it is quite lighthearted at times. The performances are what make this production work and the two actors certainly got a great reaction from the audience! At the end of the evening, when the two actors were taking their bows, they stopped the audience clapping for a brief moment to mention Gay Byrne who died that day. Both actors would have known Gay relatively well, and Kenny even went as far as saying that he had done as much for the Arts in Ireland as the Arts Council! It was a lovely moment to end the evening.