Tony award-winning Druid presents DruidMurphy – Plays by Tom Murphy – the story of Irish emigration; a story both of those who went and those who were left behind.
Told through three of the greatest plays of Tom Murphy; Conversations on a Homecoming , A Whistle in the Dark and Famine , DruidMurphy is a major celebration of one of Ireland’s most respected living dramatists.
Crossing oceans and spanning decades, DruidMurphy is directed by Garry Hynes, described by The New York Times as ‘probably the foremost interpreter of Irish drama in the world today’, and covers the period from The Great Hunger of the 19th century to the ‘new’ Ireland of the 70s, exploring what we mean when we call a place home.
Part of the London 2012 Festival – the finale of the Cultural Olympiad – DruidMurphy promises to be one of the theatrical events of 2012.
It’s 1960 and Michael Carney is an Irish emigrant living in Coventry, England with his wife, Betty. He has given lodgings to his three brothers and the imminent arrival of his father and younger brother cause tensions to boil over. Running time: 3 hours (including interval).
The DruidMurphy Experience:
You can see each of the plays individually over three evenings or experience all three plays together in a single day. The DruidMurphy Cycle Day includes an afternoon and an evening break.
Last at Hampstead Theatre with Penelope in February 2011, don’t miss Druid’s London premiere of DruidMurphy.
Also showing alongside A Whistle in the Dark :
CLICK TO BOOK NOW: Conversations on a Homecoming()
Even the humblest of small-town pubs can be a magnet for dreamers. Over a long drinking session, Michael – recently returned from New York after a ten year absence – has a reunion with old friends in that same pub ‘The White House’. Faced with the changes the years have wrought, they begin a process of self-discovery. Running time: 1 hour 10 mins (no interval).
CLICK TO BOOK NOW: Famine()
Famine is set in 1846 in County Mayo in the West of Ireland. In Glanconnor village in the west of Ireland, the second crop of potatoes fails. The community now faces the real prospect of starvation. John Connor, head of the family, leader of the village, son of glorious forefathers, is surrounded by starvation and poverty. He will do the right thing – by himself, by God and by his family. Running time: 2 hours 30 mins (including interval).
Druid gratefully acknowledges the support of Culture Ireland with the UK tour and the Arts Council of Ireland in funding the original staging of this production.
Dates & Times
|Wed 20 Jun||7:30pm||Archived|
|Sat 23 Jun||3:30pm||Press Night||Archived|
|Wed 27 Jun||3:30pm||Cycle Performance (Show will commence at 3.50pm)||Archived|
|Thu 28 Jun||7:30pm||Archived|
|Sat 30 Jun||3:30pm||Cycle Performance (Show will commence at 3.50pm)||Archived|
The three plays in this mini-retrospective of Tom Murphy’s work are urgent, visceral, and superbly acted
Tom Murphy once wrote, “Living in the 1960s, I found that I was a famine victim, that it wasn’t over . . . Famine to me meant twisted mentalities, poverty of love, tenderness and affection; the natural extravagance of youth wanting to bloom – to blossom – but being stalemated by a 19th-century mentality.”
DruidMurphy is a touring mini-retrospective of the Irish playwright’s work, performed by Galway’s Druid theatre company. It comprises three plays, written between 1961 and 1985, that are linked by themes of emigration – or, more precisely, emigration prompted by famine, progenitor of hopelessness and humiliation, source of a trauma that isn’t “over”. Drama lies in the attempts to cope with abject conditions of living – physical, psychological, spiritual.
Conversations on a Homecoming, A Whistle in the Dark and Famine are set between 1846 and the 1970s. They do not form a trilogy, but a contrasting, complementary unit. And all lack the mood of cosy detachment that often accompanies period pieces: they feel urgent and visceral.
Conversations on a Homecoming, the most recent in writing and setting, takes place in the west of Ireland, inside a backwater pub. Village clocks strike at different times; wallpaper is peeling and stained; a pretty barmaid – Anne – gazes gravely into space. Old pals congregate in honour of Michael, an actor, “home” from New York. Little happens – just dialogue and booze through a fug of nicotine. Nothing is resolved. But life – life that you can touch and smell – emerges through the fug.
Tom, a schoolteacher who wanted to be a writer, niggles at Michael’s idealistic pretensions. Tom has never left Ireland. He is belligerent, barbed, but brilliant. Michael’s dreams look flimsy; stardom has eluded him; he borrows money from his mum. Tom and Michael joust while Junior sits in between, a decent, hulking man, dogged with worry about his next pint. Liam drinks slightly apart – semi-aloof, semi-outcast – a tawdry capitalist, half-scorned by his peers. The future is his, they think.
Murphy exposes the anguished concerns of people whose self-respect has been stunted. The dialogue deals chiefly in disappointment. But this is not a gloomy piece. Humiliation is tempered by humour, poignancy, affection, singing.
The ensemble is excellent, especially Garrett Lombard’s Tom – intelligent, acerbic and pitiable – Eileen Walsh’s Peggy, Tom’s delightfully neurotic fiancée of 10 years, and Marty Rea’s romantic, callow Michael.
The playwright is unsparing with his characters, yet compassionate – no arch-villains, no lost causes. Miraculously, we side with them all.
A Whistle in the Dark takes place in Coventry in 1960. Britain is riddled with anti-Irish prejudice – “Paddy” jokes are the least of it. Michael Carney, an Irish immigrant, lives with his English wife, Betty. His father and four brothers come to stay. Michael wants to fit in with his adopted society; the Carney brawlers want to fight everyone.
Conflict centres on a street battle proposed between the Carneys and another feral Irish family. Michael won’t fight and he begs his brothers not to. They call him a coward – “a mangy dog” – which, maybe, he is. It is a play about male posturing and paranoia, prestige, tribalism and pathetic inadequacy. It is entirely compelling. Savagery is interlaced with bathos and music. Father – “Dada” – threatens to thrash his grown-up son; later he’s drinking lonesomely, singing, boasting of his great intelligence – “I’m reading the history of ancient Greece.”
It moves at threatening, erratic pace: imminent, explosive violence diffuses and returns. We never settle.
Again, the ensemble is very good. Aaron Monaghan is superb as Harry, one of the brothers – brutal, boiling, hurt. Niall Buggy’s “Dada” is an astounding display of bombastic ferocity mixed with lonely terror.
Famine is the biggest of these plays, in scale and subject matter. It portrays the most emotive event in Ireland’s history, when the potatoes failed and the people had to choose between starving and boarding a ship bound for the New World. Murphy never moralises.
Imagery is stylised: tableaux of emaciated figures against jagged, corrugated iron; a ragged child crouched beneath the politicians’ table. Muscular brushstrokes are punctuated with intimacy, lyricism, hope. The mood dips and darts: a waif-like girl is kissed for the first time: a justice of the peace is shot, then kicked viciously by the crippled Mickeleen – “slaves can be tyrants too”. It proceeds to the most harrowing and beautiful climax I have seen on stage.
I can find no weak links in Druid’s production. The cast is talented; Francis O’Connor’s designs are unobtrusively stylish; and Garry Hynes directs with wisdom and feeling.
Themes of emigration? “Universal themes” would be truer. Murphy is, I suspect, the greatest dramatist writing in English. After nine hours in Hampstead, it was hard not to think so.
Irish theatre company Druid perform a collection of work by playwright Murphy in a production that is faultless, according to Dominic Cavendish.
A handful of blackened potatoes are wrenched out of the earth and stared at in dismay. The harrowing first scene of “Famine” (1968), part of a feast of work by the Irish playwright Tom Murphy served up by Galway company Druid during a brief stop-off in London, confronts us with a searing historical image of blight and a potent piece of symbolism.
Those few malformed tubers spell hunger and starvation for the inhabitants of the fictional village of Glanconor – circa 1846 – and also signify ruin and emigration on an unrivalled scale for a country in the supposedly civilised West.
It may seem crudely reductive to attribute the rich harvest of Murphy’s career to a calamity that happened 90 years before his birth. Yet thanks to productions so faultless they’re no effort to sit through – even in one marathon day – director Garry Hynes and her superlative 16-strong ensemble help us see “The Great Famine” as a crucial source of inspiration. In his portraits of bruised and bruising men, of subdued, exasperated women, in the fire and crackle of his dialogue, with its flashes of humour and fierce contrariness, lies a deep buried trauma.
The aftershocks of the famine – possibly the most shaming chapter in our colonial past – are registered in the violence and discord that rumbles away and rears up in ordinary places: in a forlorn Galway pub in the early 1970s in Conversations on a Homecoming (1985), and in a Coventry home in A Whistle in the Dark (1961).
In the former, a sorry group of male friends convene for a pint or three to hear what one of their number – the still-aspiring actor Michael – has been up to for the last 10 years in Swinging London. His insubstantial conversational titbits are grist to the bitter mill of one of the clique in particular – the grouchy Tom – who wears his own lack of prospects as a perverse badge of pride and makes every effort to put the outsider in his place, with much barbed geniality.
An even stronger sense of resentment towards the self-bettering émigré is whipped up in Murphy’s ferocious, often savagely entertaining breakthrough play, A Whistle in the Dark. Michael Carney, the most intelligent and get-ahead of five brothers – who has made a new life and acquired an English wife over the water – is dragged down to a point of no return by the whole visiting feral clan, led by his merciless father, a man for whom attack is always the best form of defence.
There simply isn’t space here to do justice to the performances, excellent across the board from actors as distinguished and cherished as Mary Mullen, Niall Buggy and Eileen Walsh. This is at once a monumental survey of an underrated playwright and of Ireland itself. If the question many Irish have had to ask is: “Do I stay or go?”, so far as English audiences are concerned, attendance should be obligatory.
Survivors of Gatz will not shrink at the idea of a nine-hour day spent watching three plays by the great Irish dramatist, Tom Murphy. Garry Hynes, who directs them for Galway’s Druid company, is emphatic they should not be dubbed a trilogy, since they span 25 years of Murphy’s writing life. But what emerges from this richly rewarding event, which tours Ireland, the US and the UK until the end of October, is Murphy’s obsession with emigration and its impact on Irish identity.
You see this most clearly in Conversations on a Homecoming, staged by Hynes with a breathtaking poetic realism. Set in a run-down Galway bar in the 1970s, it confronts Michael, returning after a 10-year absence in New York, with his old drinking chums dominated by a cynical teacher, Tom. As in Conor McPherson’s The Weir, the bar offers a microcosm of Irish life and what is extraordinary is how much of it Murphy packs in: the failed dreams, the love of drink, the male fear of women and the emergence of a bustling class of entrepreneurs. Beautifully played by Marty Rea as the returning Michael, Garrett Lombard as the embittered teacher and Eileen Walsh as the latter’s eternal fiancee, the play pins down better than any work I know the Irish need to escape.
With A Whistle in the Dark, Murphy deals with the consequences of emigration. Pre-dating “in-yer-face” theatre by several decades, Murphy’s viscerally powerful play shows a fighting Irish family, the Carneys, set down in Coventry in 1960 and engaging in a pitched battle with a rival clan. The play is often compared to Pinter’s The Homecoming, but I am reminded more of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs in that we see the family intellectual drawn into appalling violence. But what Murphy captures perfectly is the rootlessness of the myth-making Carneys. Niall Buggy also gives a mesmerising performance as the raging bull of a father who turns out to be a hollow sham.
It is only with Famine, however, that we see the real source of Ireland’s tragedy. Set in County Mayo in 1846, the play charts the impact of the potato famine on a rural community: it breeds not just suffering, but also leads the landlords to launch a policy of mass emigration. This is Murphy at his most Brechtian; but the scene I shall not forget is that in which Brian Doherty as an obdurate village leader is forced to turn his head away from a landlord’s agent in case he contaminates him with his very breath. After a long but engrossing day, I emerged astonished both by Murphy’s historical awareness and Druid’s ensemble vigour.
Anguished, angry, passionate, poetic and at times violent, this trio of works by the seminal Irish playwright Tom Murphy makes a richly textured and absorbing theatrical experience. Impeccably acted in meticulous, stirringly evocative productions by Druid’s founder Garry Hynes, the plays traverse time and oceans to present a kind of dramatic ballad of Ireland and Irishness, musical in its shifts of mood and rhythm, compelling in its complexity and its emotional force.
The journey begins in the early 1970s in a Co Galway pub, where Michael Ridge (Marty Rea), an actor who has emigrated to America in pursuit of success, returns home to find his sentimental memories under attack by former associates who either muffle their deep dissatisfaction with their lives with stoicism and self-delusion or, like his former best friend Tom (Garrett Lombard), decline into bitterness.
Conversations on a Homecoming is an achingly sad, wistful work about unfulfilled potential. Its low-key tenor is interrupted by outbreaks of snarling verbal savagery, a latent threat that explodes into terrifying brutality in A Whistle in the Dark, set in Coventry some ten years earlier. Here, Rea plays Michael Carney — connected to Michael Ridge in name and spirit — who has set up home in Britain with his English wife (Eileen Walsh). Their domicile is invaded by Michael’s four volatile brothers and their toxic father, Dada (a tremendous Niall Buggy), who glories in setting them against one another and in their feud with another Irish family. Against a backdrop of racial prejudice, in the country of Ireland’s colonisers, the men seek certainty and identity in bloody street fights. It is deeply disturbing.
The trio is completed by Famine, an evocation of the Great Hunger set in 1846. Hynes’s direction combines with Francis O’Connor’s design and David Bolger’s movement to create an almost painterly vision of history that flows, dreamlike, through scenes of great suffering. A row of blighted potato plants is ripped from the dirt; we witness dead children buried, families torn apart, land seized from under them; we hear of desperate people with skin turned greenish from resorting to eating grass, and of a child eating the breast of its mother’s corpse. In a scene in which grandees plot to wipe out the starving-peasant problem with mass migration, pale bodies, unregarded, slowly begin to pile up in corners.
The pace is deliberately agonising, the ordeal before us relentless. Viewed in its entirety, DruidMurphy is truly epic, broad of scope, its insight profound, its clear-sightedness both cruel and compassionate. Remarkable.
The nine-hour triptych of Tom Murphy plays that comprise DruidMurphy – Conversations on a Homecoming (1985), A Whistle in the Dark (1961) and Famine (1968) – are about the Irish experience of emigration and home-coming, from the potato famine to the ‘new’ prosperity of the 1970s.
And they prove a high-five Hibernian highlight of the year so far, a fantastic tear-sodden blast of the very best in Irish theatre. Garry Hynes leads her Galway-based Druid company in triumph and despair, twin impostors of the Celtic dream and nightmare.
Tom Murphy is a leading theatrical and literary figure of our time, and as great a dramatist as Brian Friel, something they know in Dublin and Galway, but not necessarily in London where, ironically, his first big success, A Whistle in the Dark, was premiered.
That play, a violent domestic tragedy of a set of Mayo ‘iron men’ descending on Coventry in Warwickshire in their boots and suits to visit the family’s eldest son, Michael, in 1960, comes across as an impassioned pre-emptive strike against both Harold Pinter and Edward Bond. It’s brutal, nasty, and deeply upsetting and compelling in equal measure. And it punctuates Conversations on a Homecoming, a lyrical Galway pub drama in which another “favoured” son, also called Michael, returns to his sleepy backwater from New York in the early 1970s; and Famine, which charts the repercussions of the catastrophic Great Hunger in a fictional rural community of 1846.
The Druid performances, which visit New York, Galway and Oxford next month, and tour Ireland thereafter, are part of the London 2012 Festival, and a brave part, too: many Londoners, myself included, are here because of the famine, and subsequent emigration waves, and Murphy’s dramas attempt to assess how notions of ‘home’ and ‘the old country’ sit with the desire for escape, renewal, return and spiritual possession.
In Conversations, a rich and hilarious precursor of both Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh, Michael’s New York career as an actor may be suspect; how does ‘home’ receive or assess what we do ‘away’? You’re welcome back, but hated for having gone in the first place: we had to carry on without you, and don’t we just love to have a good old moan about it into our pints?
Marty Rea, who plays both Michaels, conveys this ambiguity quite beautifully, while Garrett Lombard as the teacher who stayed behind and Aaron Monaghan as the shifty small-time entrepreneur lock horns either side in a battle for status on the home patch. A picture of President Kennedy adorns the stark grey walls of the Whitehouse pub: 10 years after his death, the countryside still claims inspirational affiliation; from JFK, and from the absentee landlord, JJ, who’s out on a binge.
All of these plays acquire new resonance in the wake of the Celtic Tiger’s demise and the collapse of the economy. Ireland is a “last refuge” claims Monaghan’s gesticulating wide-boy, but for what, and for whom? They all get drunk, as do the fighting Mayo boys in Whistle, led by Niall Buggy’s extraordinary dominating Dada, a former policeman who may not be as big as his boom or his bite.
‘Irish men shouldn’t get married’, says Eileen Walsh’s abused Warwickshire housewife, counterpart to her simpering, tolerant but equally anxious fiancée in Conversations. The combination of poverty, religion and family forms a toxic poison in relationships; political oppression justifies the tragic fall-out.
Famine, the one play I’d not seen before, is the most astonishing; a poetic and elliptical stew of Brecht, O’Neill and wild folk music, with a child’s funeral, a desperate scramble among the blighted potato crops, a confrontation between armed peelers and angry peasants, a dissection of emigration policy as, in effect, land enclosures, and a monumental performance from Brian Doherty as the heroically conflicted and beleaguered farmer.
These are snapshots of a nation’s history, fleshed out in scenes of intense theatricality in Garry Hynes’s superb productions, all three plays designed by [Francis O’Connor] and lit by Chris Davey within an echoing surround of slanting corrugated iron, tinged with burnt soil, a landscape that retrospectively consumes both village pub and Coventry rough house.