Monday 16 September 2019

Tributes pour in for Murphy - 'a true titan of Irish theatre'

Murphy had a long relationship with Dublin’s Abbey Theatre
Murphy had a long relationship with Dublin’s Abbey Theatre
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

It was Tom Murphy's soulfulness, the passion and brutality of his writing, and his piercing observations of Irish life that contemporaries remembered while paying tribute to the late playwright.

Described as "Ireland's Chekhov", and "a titan of Irish theatre", Murphy died on Tuesday at the age of 83.

His was a career that spanned almost six decades.

Born in Tuam, Co Galway, Murphy's father was a carpenter and his family of 10 brothers and sisters was "decimated" by emigration. This fury and frustration tore through his early plays.

Playwright Tom Murphy who has died aged 83.
Playwright Tom Murphy who has died aged 83.

In 1961, his first full-length work, 'A Whistle in the Dark', was performed in London. The play had been rejected by the Abbey Theatre, but the national theatre went on to cultivate a strong relationship with Murphy.

There were 19 premieres of Murphy's plays on the Abbey and Peacock stages, including 'The Gigli Concert' and 'The Sanctuary Lamp'. Yesterday, Abbey Theatre directors Graham McLaren and Neil Murray praised "the musicality and muscularity" of Murphy's work.

"The score of his text was so precise. Every comma, ellipsis and pause had intent. The craftsmanship of his work was beyond phenomenal," they said.

Murphy also worked extensively with Druid Theatre Company. He was the writer-in-residence with Druid in 1983, producing 'Bailegangaire' and 'Conversations on a Homecoming'.

His relationship with the company lasted years; in 2013, 'DruidMurphy: Plays by Tom Murphy' toured Ireland, the UK and the US. And in 2014, Druid presented a new production of 'Bailegangaire' alongside the world premiere of 'Brigit'.

Speaking from New York, Druid co-founder Garry Hynes said: "I loved Tom passionately as a writer and as a person. He made a difference in the world. There will be time to celebrate his life and his talent - the great wit and passion of the man - but for now we are bereft."

Hynes said the world had become a "smaller, darker place", but Murphy had left a light behind him "to guide us through the darkness".

Actress Cathy Belton said she was "absolutely heart-broken" after learning of his death.

"We were so lucky to have him," she said. "The reason I am an actress is because of Tom Murphy. I saw 'Conversations on a Homecoming' when I was 13, I sat front row and I remember walking out thinking 'I want to be an actress'.

"I adored him. He was a great genius who wasn't afraid to go to the dark places and track our emotional and social history.

"He was rawer than any other playwright I have worked with. He was our Chekhov. We will never see his likes again.

"I loved the bones of him and I was honoured to call him a friend."

President Micheal D Higgins described Murphy as "the great playwright of the emigrant" while Sheila Pratschke, chair of the Arts Council, said his lucid use of language "exposed the glory and folly of humanity".

Irish Independent

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