“To be a good postman, you need the patience of Job, the sagacity of Solomon and the insight of Plato.”
Outlines continue to flow in Letters of a Country Postman, the adaptation of the short story by the late John B Keane, staged at the Everyman in Cork and directed by the theatre’s artistic director, Sophie Motley. Keane’s razor-sharp sketches of rural life, laced with sharp humor and insight, were groundbreaking in their time and still hold true today.
In Letters of a Country Postman, Mocky Fondoo (Tadhg Hickey) nears retirement as he cycles through a bygone Ireland where the postwoman steams open letters, bottles of stout are drunk on the bookshelf and temptresses in dressing gowns waiting to pounce. We can only watch with envy the personal touch Mocky and Co brings from today’s perspective, as Amazon vans clutter our streets and communication is more Snapchat than snail mail.
However, while the medium has changed, the message remains the same – amid the messy reality of life, community and connection can sustain us. All human life is present in the Ballyfee postal district as Hickey and fellow ensemble members Madi O’Carroll and Chloe O’Reilly perform the difficult task of portraying a wide range of characters with brilliance. O’Reilly is particularly strong, providing the biggest laughs of the night as dissolute postman Bugler McNulty.
Hickey, known for his comedic talents, plays him mostly straight, but the showman occasionally surfaces as he abandons his character to lash out at the audience or his fellow performers. On several occasions, he crosses the auditorium on his bicycle. Accompaniment by Kerry musician Danny O’Mahony on accordion sustains the action well throughout, and he also steps in for a poignant moment as Mocky’s correspondent Hamish.
The production bravely attempts to capture the ancient spirit of Keane’s work, but the gifted playwright who gave us The Field and Sive among others wrote the “Letters”. . .’ series like books, not plays, and epistolary vanity ends up running out of theatrical momentum.
The ending takes a surprising turn as the lights come on on the audience who are invited to join in a song with the cast. It’s a somewhat shocking and unsatisfying ending for a show in which the source material is most certainly the star.