An audience might be bamboozled into thinking that this delightful Irish two-hander was a re-working of Thornton Wilder's classic comedy of the same title, the play that gave us Hello, Dolly! But not for long: the setting is rural Ireland in the 1950s, a remote corner of County Kerry where Dicky Mick Dicky O'Connor is fixing up the lonely and the lovelorn with suitable opposite numbers.
The form of the play is epistolary, John B Keane basing it on his own novel Letters of a Matchmaker, and it's been a stand-by for many outstanding Irish actors over the past quarter century. The current incumbents from the City Theatre in Dublin are Ann Charleston as a gallery of lonely old crones and biddies, and Jon Kenny as the aforesaid Dicky Mick Dicky, and some of his own clients, too.
These latter include an Anglo-Irish huntsman who is not averse to "a nice young man" to be going on with, a farmer bursting to have a roll in his own hay, and a skinny little jockey who speaks faster than a chipmunk on speed. The correspondence in the play is firstly between Dicky and his sister in Pennsylvania, and secondly between Dicky and his customers, not all of them satisfied.
At the root of the play is the aching physical loneliness of the single life in rural Ireland at this time, and it's extraordinary how Keane catches not only this social disease - and the Catholic Church was no help at all - but also the sexual longing it denied. Dicky Mick advocates milk laced with white pepper and poteen to get the blood flowing; a dried up client will respond more juicily on drugs.
Charleston brings a sad and graceful beat to her vignettes of love and longing, while Kenny delivers his colourful rogues' gallery with hilarious comic precision in stark contrast to the decent, humane operation of his own peat-bog Pandarus; Dicky Mick Dicky's a world away from the frantic, heartless match-making of Wilder's grotesque Dolly Levi.
The Matchmaker runs at Assembly George Square until 25 August
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