Discover more from Tripe + Drisheen
Letters of a Country Postman
The spirit and wit of John B. Keane is brought to life in a stage production that covers a lot of ground and is played mostly for laughs.
Anyone who has ever written a letter will have fast come up against the eternal letter writing conundrum: what to include, and what to leave out?
In Letters of a Country Postman (at The Everyman until August 27) director Sophie Motley has answered the epistolary problem by including everything. It’s a play that’s a comedy, a musical, a singalong and briefly even a lecture, when accomplished trad musician Danny O’Mahony, on stage for the entirety of the play, quite early on gives a brief history of the melodeon he’s playing.
The instrument once belonged to musician Tom Carmody, a Kerry man (and likely a letter writer) who emigrated to America in the last century. The play halts momentarily as O’Mahony tells the audience about the provenance of the melodeon, which has Carmody’s name emblazoned on it, and which he used to entertain audiences at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan many, many years before O’Mahony found it rotting in a shed restored it and brought it to The Everyman.
Letters of a Country Postman is the anchor show of the summer at The Everyman, and, as Motley, the theatre’s artistic director explains in the summer programme, she’s been listening.
“I’ve been reading your letters and comments to us, and when so many audience members wanted to see a John B. Keane, we knew we had to respond with something,” Motley writes.
And so Motley, The Everyman and the small but versatile cast has responded, with gusto and enthusiasm. And the crowd on the night I went, responded with same.
Much of the play, which is based on a story of the same name by John B. Keane, feels and looks stage Irish. In fact, the stage looks stage Irish, and that’s not meant to detract from the work of the set designers who have created a web of letters suspended across the stage and which evokes something between a country pub shrouded in darkness and a sorting office. Postal bikes, including a High Nelly, also feature heavily.
The premise is that Mocky Fondoo (played by Tadhg Hickey) is winding down the last few months of his 50-year postal career in the fictional town of Ballyfee. Hickey is supported by actors Madi O’Carroll and Chloe O’Reilly who play a host of characters which includes the postmistress, who doubles as the chief spy and not-so-secret opener of many a letter in Ballyfee, Dogmeat Monsell, Mocky’s colleague, Frank O’Looney, the new and naïve postal recruit, Kitty Norris, the “sure god help us” abandoned wife and mother, and a host of other characters that will be recognisable to anyone who grew up in rural Ireland when letters were still delivered by postmen on High Nelly bicycles and in a time when letter writing was far more prevalent.
The cast have their work cut of for them in a play that runs past two hours. It works best as a series of sketches involving a combination of Mockey and the postmistress, or Mockey or the novice postman Frank who finds that there is fierce pulling power in his uniform.
It’s slapstick humour for the most part, and it’s mostly entertaining. It’s played for laughs, and the audience responds.
In a play which centres on letters, letter writing figures heavily, especially in the second half, in which the overall joke and gag content is dialled back, a bit. Mockey’s wife is in America visiting their kids, and Mockey is going above and beyond to help Kitty, who’s husband has left her. Mockey’s lonely and reflective, his career is winding down, but old age has not made him insensitive, rather it has just made him old as he explains in a letter of his own to his Scottish friend Hamish.
When it comes time to finally retire, there’s a great big hooley for Mockey, which acts as a segue for O’Mahony to once more take centre stage and teach the audience a verse of a spirited song (that deserves to be more well-known), led by Tadhg Hickey. Before you know it, or as soon as we know the verse, O’Carroll and O’Reilly reappear on stage playing a fiddle a piece and it’s merriment and dancing from there on in until the curtains come down. ‘Tis only a pity nobody showed Hickey a step or two of Irish dancing, because I am not sure what kind of curtseying and twirling he was doing on stage as O’Mahony belted out jigs and reels on Carmody’s old box.
Still and all you feel like John B. Keane would be happy his Letters is still entertaining crowds nearly 50 years after he penned a comedic version of an Ireland that is with O’Leary in the grave.
Letters of a Country Postman is on in The Everyman until August 27. Tickets and more information are available here.