Murphy paints a bleak picture of small-town Irish life, where gossip, stories and drinking are the staples of the day. Michael appears to have returned to reclaim some sense of identity, but leaving in the first place has forever separated him from the town and friends which were once so familiar.
The resentment is palpable. The need to find fault, to tear down and dismiss as failure his attempts to find a better life elsewhere is all that sustains those who have chosen to remain. Their jealousy of those whose courage allowed them to break free from parochial life is a constant reminder of their own cowardice and lack of fulfilment.
Even the endless pints cannot diminish their feelings of inadequacy and failure. Only Liam, entrepreneur and rising businessman, shows any sign of success and this is at the expense of the community in which he lives. Murphy's play is a melancholic reflection on a community fractured by absence, failed dreams and stagnation.
1960s Coventry is the setting for the second play in the cycle, A Whistle in the Dark. What happens when the home you left behind comes and finds you? Eldest brother of five Michael Carney left home 10 years previously and is settled with his English wife, Betty. His past comes to haunt him when his four brothers and father descend upon his home and he is forced to choose which of his families he owes allegiance to.
The Carney clan are a swaggering, belligerent bunch whose main source of entertainment is violent clashes with anyone who offends their status as Irish men. They live to fight, an instinct instilled in them from childhood. When they encounter another family from back home, the Mulryans, the stage is set for a tribal clash to prove who are the better clan and Michael, who has long left behind his violent past, must choose between his morals and his loyalty to his kin.
It is a brutal, vicious play - ultimately Michael regresses and the inevitable tragedy that follows leaves a bitter taste. It is a powerful play which speaks to the cultural tensions borne of the influx of the Irish to England in the 1960s.
The final play, Famine, explores the historical source of Irish emigration, the great potato blight. Brechtian in tone, the piece opens with the funeral of a young child over whose grave an old woman is keening. The play is expressionist and poetic, using music and visual imagery to underscore the tragedy being played out. When the 'leaders' of the community meet to discuss the famine and possible solutions, a young child in rags sits silently beneath the table, a constant reminder of what is happening.
The solution offered by the council is to leave or starve; money for emigration is offered to those affected by the famine and the moral question becomes whether to fight for the life you know or turn on your homeland. John Connor decides to stay and it costs him everything he has - his home, his family, his sanity. It is a bleak depiction of arguably the most significant tragedy in Ireland’s history, and remains in the memory long after the curtain falls.
It is an epic undertaking for both company and audience to experience these three plays over a nine hour period. Special mention should be made of Niall Buggy's extraordinary performance as Dadda in Whistle and to Aaron Monaghan, whose three roles in the three plays showed him to be an actor of extreme prowess. Druid's Cycle proves their place as a company of outstanding talent and versatility.
- by Moya Hughes