Letters of a Country Postman by John B Keane: catches mood of audience if not perhaps  the author

Theatre review: lots of jovial energy but what’s missing is acidity

Letters of a Country Postman by John B Keane

The Everyman, Cork
Rating: 3/5

There is a promising signal of authority in the first moments of Sophie Motley’s theatrical debut as Artistic Director of The Everyman when the pleated crimson sweep of Danny O’Mahony’s accordion coincides exactly with the parting of the crimson proscenium curtains. That authority applies as a declaration of Motley’s free-range approach in her adaptation of John B Keane’s novella of 1977.

Lit by Stephen Dodd’s brightly sympathetic design, the setting by Pai Rathaya offers a wilderness of captured envelopes, itself suggestive of the futility of written communication. This might suit a modernist postal system but it was not what Keane had in mind, given the variety and vitality of his writing for what amounts to a chronicle of the Irish diaspora.

The generously multi-tasking cast is led by Tadhg Hickey as the postman who never has to ring twice, and the atmosphere of jovial impersonation is maintained with energy throughout, sometimes to excess. What’s missing is acidity, the contradictions as well as the subtlety of Keane’s writing, where the pathos of a deserted young woman waiting for a letter contrasts with the postman’s advice on avoiding the lascivious wiles of females. It’s comedy in a broad style and if there’s an undertone of empathy it comes from O’Mahony’s continuo as he roams the set like a sedated Donald Trump.

The chief problem is not so much a mis-handling as a mis-reading. The amplified characterisations of each episode cannot merge easily into narration, and there is meagre affection for the postal system itself as social connectivity just as efficient and far more dutiful than Twitter or Facebook. And while Motley keeps a steady pace for most of the action and seems to have caught the mood not of Keane but certainly of the competitively bronzed audience, she loses the bridle entirely when the second act’s closing fade slides into, of all things, a kind of ceilidh. An authoritative step too far, but at least she has obeyed that consecrated rule of the showband era and sends us home sweatin’.


To August 27th at the Everyman

Mary Leland

Mary Leland is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture