Mary McEvoy and Jon Kenny play an array of characters in the classic Irish two-hander revived at the Millennium Forum from October 8 - 10
Based on the comic letters by John B Keane, The Matchmaker concerns the efforts of Dicky Mick Dicky O’Connor, a matchmaker in rural Ireland, to find love and companionship – not to mention, in the case of one woman in particular, plenty of sex – for his male and female clients.
Keane wrote the letters – collected and published in novella form – in the 1970s. Adapted for the stage in the 1980s, and produced by Phyllis Ryan, the play has recently been revived with great success by Michael Scott.
Although featuring an array of characters, The Matchmaker is a two-hander, with all the roles played by just two actors, in this case, Mary McEvoy and Jon Kenny. This is Mary McEvoy’s second turn in the play, and she is relishing every minute.
'It’s a tiring play to perform, and it certainly takes its toll, but it’s great fun, and the energy of the audience can carry you through,' she says,
The play has great appeal for McEvoy, for a variety of reasons. 'It’s a classic Irish play. Yes, it seems kind of olde worlde, but I’ve always loved it. The writing has innate wisdom and beauty.'
Set in the 1970s, deep in the Irish countryside, far away from modern, urban life, at first glance the play can seem a period piece, about a time and a place long since gone. But this would be to dismiss the universal truths it contains.
'The play shows an honest admission of loneliness and the desire to settle down,' says McEvoy. 'John B Keane understood the emptiness and isolation of rural Ireland – and things haven’t changed that much since he wrote the letters – but he also understood the human condition.
'There’s loneliness in country living, but there’s loneliness in city life, too. The play contains timeless truths. Everyone, everywhere, is always looking for the one.'
It’s not simply about love, however. The need for both money and companionship is explored, and there are frank appraisals of the importance of sex in a relationship, as one of the characters makes clear to the matchmaker, when she tells him she’s looking for a man with all parts in 'fair working order…able to perform the conjugals'.
While it operates according to a classic comic formula, with elements of a Carry On…humour, the play doesn’t turn a blind eye to life’s sadnesses and trials. The matchmaker and his wife have a happy marriage, full of a deep love, but it is one touched by the tragic early deaths of their two children.
And it is modern and relevant in the way it shows the needs of the people emerging from a society which priests seeks to dominate. The matchmaker tells one priest in no uncertain terms what to do with his opinions.
Having firsthand experience of the lack of good roles for women, Mary McEvoy points to The Matchmaker as something of a godsend. 'John B Keane had a close eye on the world,' she says. 'He saw through the social restrictions placed on women, especially, and he understood how they broke through those restrictions in order to get what they needed.
'None of the women in the play are helpless. They’re clever and audacious, and they know what they want.'
During its current incarnation, Mary McEvoy has seen audiences left helpless with laughter, but there is a depth and recognition in the writing and, especially, in the understanding of how poverty and circumstance inform characterisation and action.
The Matchmaker runs at the Millennium Forum, Derry~Londonderry, for three nights, starting Thursday 8 October. Book tickets at www.millenniumforum.co.uk.