The McCooeys, Radio Play Review, March 20th, 2021

The McCooeys: ‘Radio play’, Portico Theatre, March 20, 2021

By Conor O’Neill

Photography courtesy of Eoghan Lamb

The McCooeys ran from 1949 to 1955, two years before The Archers and a decade before Coronation Street first aired on the tele.

Portico of Portaferry, along with Centre Stage Theatre Company brings this ‘radio play’ – though at first viewing on YouTube it’s a radio play where one can see the reading.

There’s two acts, the first taking a second or third watching to collect an appreciation of where and what the plot is based on. This being based on the fact that the first screening on Saturday had a gremlin working its nastiest work and we only joined almost two minutes late to the performance, though I gather this hitch has been corrected now.

What’s it about I hear you say? Well, the simple truth is a trip down memory lane. Two acts, 58 minutes with a 10 minute interview with director, Michael Quinn and the granddaughter of the writer, Joseph Tomelty, Hannah Carnegie, chatting about the legacy and the burden of such memorable radio theatre thrown upon her. Though, what a nice legacy to continue.

The first act sees Maria Connolly shine as uppity Henrietta Toosel: yarning about her yo-yo of a hubby, Ernie, doing repeat porridge due to a unstoppable case of sticky fingers; of course granda McCooey – Dan Gordon – and Aunt Sarah – Christina Nelson – cannot help but butt in every other syllable. Connolly as Toosel is a gag a minute. Toosel’s uppity social ladder-crawling is only tempered by her use of polysyllable words she hasn’t a clue of their meaning.

Act two is somewhat easier to follow, no gremlins to add confusion, Granda McCooey has two options: the first being his winning ticket to a holiday of a lifetime or a week in Newcastle with debatable sleeping arrangements. Let’s not forget this is the 1950s and proposals of an unmarried couple even daring to share a caravan, even with chaperons in their midst, is tantamount to enormous scandal.

Would I recommend this radio play to others? Yes, but maybe just to those a little longer in the tooth than I. What is apparent is writer Tomelty’s ear for the beautiful Ulster turn of phrase, his approach to character’s nuances, speech and world view is as relevant today as it was back in the 1950s. But this will simply fly over the heads of younger listeners.

The McCooeys runs until March 27th, 2021.

Those of a certain age will love it. At a tenner a pop it’s well worth the price.

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