DruidMurphy: A Whistle in the Dark

Directed by GARRY HYNES

£14.50 - £66 (See ticket information)

Main Stage

20 - 30 Jun 2012
£14.50 - £66

Box Office: 020 7722 9301


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 HomecomingA 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 – DruidMurphypromises 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.

  • The Financial Times

    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.

  • The Telegraph

    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.


Video and Image Gallery


1 Social Distanced 1