The Matchmaker – Gaiety Theatre – Review
by Gearoid O’Byrne
Michael Scott’s iconic production of John B. Keane’s comedy The Matchmaker originally opened in Spirit in January 2001, with the original cast of Anna Managhan and Des Keogh. The Matchmaker is based on the 1975 novella “Letters of a Country Matchmaker” by John B. Keane.
In this bawdy comedy, Norma Sheahan joins Jon Kenny and together they play a myriad of characters. Norma, who is known for her roles in The Clinic, Bridget and Eamon and Moone Boy, is the only other actress apart from Vanessa Redgrave to have sold out the Gaiety Theatre in a one-woman show (not once, but twice) in her performance as Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine. Jon Kenny of course is well known as part of the Irish comic duo D’Unbelievables with Pat Shortt.
The play follows the efforts of Richard Michael Richard (otherwise Dicky Mick Dicky) O’Connor to make marriage matches for the lonely, lusty and lovelorn in Munster. With his unique Kerry way with words and wit, Keane delves into the longings, hungers, fears and foibles of this collection of lonely country people and creates a marvellously colourful world, taking us back to what might seem a simpler time, when people communicated by letter before mobiles and computers had taken over our lives. But people’s love lives, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, are rarely pure and never simple!
The staging and lighting are straightforward but effective, we are so absorbed by peering into the intimate lives of the characters presented as to barely notice how well the actors are supported by the props and costumes used.
Given that it was originally written in the mid-1970s, the main character shows a surprisingly steely determination in dealing with the local clergy who try and shut down his activities. It is, of course, of its time, the characters are all heterosexual and the only lovelorn character who indicates gay/ bisexual tendencies is an Anglo-Irish gentleman. The place names used are a wonderful collection of obscure and unpronounceable anglicised versions of Gaelic townland names which may or may not be based on real Kerry townland names.
Apart from some wonderful comic moments, it is at its best in some of Dicky Mick Dicky O’Connor’s soliloquies about life and loss, where Keane speaks to the eternal fear of loneliness that still stalks us all, even in this connected world. There is a familiar human warmth to the characters that carried the audience into their world, and maybe it was the realisation that we’re not so different to them after all that left the audience with a warm, fuzzy feeling at the end of the evening!
The production runs till the 17th of September 2022 at the Gaiety Theatre.
Cast: Norma Sheahan and Jon Kenny