Saturday 23 March 2019

Play 'was like somebody got in my brain and thought and felt like me' - Garry Hynes on the book that changed her life

Drama: The White House by Tom Murphy

The White House by Tom Murphy
The White House by Tom Murphy

There have been many books that changed my life. I've been an avid reader from an early age so there have been lots of turning point books if you like. But I think one really stands out, and it was a play called The White House by the playwright Tom Murphy. I was in Galway at the time and we had just moved into our then new theatre on Chapel Lane. I read it at a time in the early 1980s when Druid was looking to work with a professional Irish writer and I knew of this play, read it and absolutely loved it.

I think it was really off the back of it that we started to work with Tom and we commissioned a play from him. He wrote Bailegangaire and as we were producing that I asked him were there any other plays that he would like to do, maybe one that he wanted to do again, and he said he wanted to do The White House. I was delighted because I loved it so much.

The White House is a two act play set in a pub in a small town in the west of Ireland where three friends meet in anticipation of the return of a fourth friend who had emigrated to England some years earlier.

Tom, Liam, Junior and Michael reminisce about the good old days and it soon becomes clear that nobody is happy with their lot and that life has disappointed. In the second act, Murphy brings us back to the day, nine years before, when the mood was more positive; change was possible and their futures were bright.

The White House first appeared at the Abbey Theatre in the early 1970s but it was radically reworked and presented by Druid as Conversations on a Homecoming in 1985.

In the end, Tom decided that the first act was redundant and the heart of the play lay in the second act. So he rewrote the second act as a separate play and it became a defining production for us. It involved many of the young actors at the time who went on to become major actors so it was a milestone for Druid really. It also began a relationship both professionally and personally that was and still is, even though Tom is gone, one of the most important in my life.

I read The White House before I knew Tom so it made its mark then as the original two act play. This sounds a little egotistical but it felt like somebody had got in my brain and thought and felt like me. I felt I could have written it, not in the actual sense, but the characters felt real to me. In fact, the characters felt more real to me than real people.

I find it quite hard to read plays because you have to bring a lot of your imagination to the play. I'd read a narrative a lot more quickly than I would a play but this felt as if someone was talking beside me. It was as if I could hear the play. If I could read music, it was like I was reading the most sublime piece of music.

And I think that was something that was shared by all the actors. Lots of plays are important and others you can forget but this became sort of visceral and a part of our DNA.



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