DruidMurphy: Conversations on a Homecoming

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.

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).

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.

  • The Guardian

    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.

  • The Times

    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.


Single Tickets
Adult £29
Concessions £15 (seniors Wednesday 7th only) 
Access £14.50 For access bookings please call the Box Office on 020 7722 9301

Save money by booking for all three DruidMurphy shows

Adult Cycle Day Tickets £66
Applies when booking all 3 performances on a Cycle Saturday or Cycle Wednesday

Weekday Cycle Ticket £66
Applies when booking 3 evening weekday performances excluding Cycle days

Concessions – £15 single, £39 Cycle
Student, Under 26 and Jobseekers Allowance concession available in row M only, Cycle rules apply 
Senior Citizen discount only available Wednesday 27th in all seats

Cycle days: Saturday June 23, Wednesday June 27, Saturday June 30


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