McCooeys – Centre Stage Theatre – Review
by Hugh Maguire
“Audiences will be transported to a radio studio where they will see the inner workings of a radio play as it is broadcast live, including the creation of sound effects.”
It is hard for a new generation to imagine, let alone recall, the huge enjoyment thousands derived from regular radio serials delivered with assured regularity, sometimes daily, in pre-television days affording links with other worlds outside the home. With limited travel opportunities and no television, the lives of others were suddenly referred to in detail, if not explicitly so, by wireless radio on a mantelpiece in the heart of the home. Every day ordinary concerns, such as were there enough potatoes for the dinner rather than fear of nuclear annihilation formed the staple fare. RTE, at that time Radio Eireann, had an array, notably The Kennedys of Castleross, lasting from 1955-73 and later Harbour Hotel, running from 1975-1990. BBC Radio 4 has still its daily dose of The Archers which is a national institution and followed religiously by many. Of course, the explosion of televisions soaps is part of this tradition too, from Fair City close to home to the never-ending angst of East Enders. However, what they provide in technical wizardry and gritty urban realism they lack in warmth and innocence.
In its recreation of Northern Ireland’s most successful radio series of this type, The McCooeys, originally written by Joseph Tomelty (1911-95), we are brought back to the golden age of radio serials. Presented by Centre Stage Theatre with the Portico of Ards we are afforded an insight into the North’s classic of this type. Not only have we the joys of the local turn of phrase – admittedly with not an expletive to be heard or hinted at – but we have an insight into the production style of such a series, the clustering by the microphones, the clear enunciation, and the technical creation and timing of sound effects not forgetting the fruity arch tones of the continuity announcer, so typical of the period. The original recordings are of course available on all sorts of online BBC archives. But this production still captures with freshness, insight and charm, a kindness that is all too often absent today and is diverting viewing and listening. It reminds us too of the particular turn of phrase specific to Belfast and much of the North and which certainly comes down into Monaghan and Louth too. It is not certain how many of these phrases have resonance further afield but it is wonderful how many still survive in the everyday language of the border counties.