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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.