The Matchmaker, Gaiety Theatre, Dublin review; 'comedy about romance creaking with age-related arthritis'
Originally a comic novella, this presentation of Phyllis Ryan’s adaptation of John B Keane’s portrait of a Kerry matchmaker is creaking with age-related arthritis.
Dickie McDickie, or Richard as he signs himself to his sister, is an enterprising Kerryman who has taken it upon himself to manage the romantic affairs of single people for the payment of a fee of twenty pounds. The play is a series of letters between him and various of his clients, and also his sister Marge in Philadelphia.
Each of the clients is a potted portrait of a local single, all older and mainly widowed or separated, and occasionally they have a wooden leg. Jon Kenny, following on his brilliant turn as Mr Hardcastle in the Abbey production of She Stoops to Conquer last year, provides a fabulous procession of fools, as well as anchoring the lead role of Dickie. Mary McEvoy is less versatile in her portrayals, and takes refuge in screeching a bit too often. But her comic timing is good, and she certainly got her laughs on opening night.
The impact of more serious notes, such as when Dickie is denounced from the pulpit by the priest, and the illness of his wife, is undermined by the episodic nature of the piece. Director Michael Scott never finds a way to correct this flaw. Lena, who becomes a significant character late in the play, is undistinguished in her early appearances. She simply seems slightly less of an eejit than the other ladies, but only slightly.
“She’ll only let the bull near her once a year,” complains one man of his stand-offish wife. The humour is bawdy and earthy: it might have been a bit more potent a couple of decades ago when it would have been fierce naughty. We have plenty of ladies who are mares that need breaking, and gents who are “horses of men in all departments.” The horse/sex analogy gets cantered around several times, until the poor metaphoric nag finally collapses with exhaustion. Now we live in the age of Tinder, matchmaking has come a long way since John B Keane’s work. But comedy has moved on too.