The Matchmaker is John B Keane’s Irish “peasant play”-inspired, rurally set comedy, centred on Dicky Mick Dicky O'Connor and his enterprising business of finding love matches for an eccentric procession of local acquaintances and neighbours. The play is composed entirely of written correspondence between Dicky and either his sister in Philadelphia or one or another of his clients-slash-potential matches, and performed by two actors in a circular movement that spans characters, counties and countries.
Much of the focus of the play is on sex, but the rampancy isn’t just emanating from the male characters. Poor Fionnuala Crust, for example, is matched with not one but two impotent (and subsequently speedily deceased) husbands, leaving her for all intents and purposes high and dry, and extremely frustrated – and far more upset by this bereavement than any mortal one.
The Matchmaker is a very funny play, and although since it's debut in 1976, the sexual taboos with which it deals have been at least loosened as regards the buttoned-down morality of Irish-Catholic idealism, today’s audiences, in our sometimes absurdly politically correct climate, can find the same brand of illicit joy. Albeit quite a black comedy, it is at its heart a work of humanity and pathos, uniting us with those things we are all thinking, but cannot always voice.
In Perth Theatre Company’s newest adaptation of the work, originally slated to be directed by the late PTC Artistic Director Alan Becher, Scottish-born director Michael McCall puts prominent Perth actors Nicola Bartlett and Ingle Knight through their theatrical paces.
With all the accent changes – and in this production not one of them is the actors’ own – the piece is hard work, and each of the performers struggles at times. Knight’s Dicky, although impressive, is occasionally difficult for Aussie ears to decipher, and Bartlett is at times saved only by her own personal charm and rapport with the audience. It is clear that both Bartlett and Knight are talented performers; they just need to better find their feet.
That being said, McCall brings grace and humility to the difficult task of taking the reins of someone else’s project (and in this case, an eminent someone), and is clearly attuned to the play’s sensibilities, not only as the Catholic and Celtic gentleman that he is, but also and more importantly as a competent and intuitive director.
Technically speaking, under the deft touch of Stage Manager Anna Dymitr-Hawkes, Lucy Birkinshaw’s lighting thoroughly compliments Steve Nolan’s versatile set and Roly Skender's soundscape is warm and emotive.
This production has much potential and I wish all involved a fulfilling season.
Perth Theatre Company in association with The Brainbox Project presents
by John B. Keane
Venue: DownStairs at the Maj (His Majesty’s Theatre), Hay Street, Perth
Season: Saturday 14 March – Saturday 4 April, 7.30pm
Matinee: Saturday 28 March, 2pm
Tickets: Standard $40 / Concession $28.50 / Groups (6+) $30