The theme of emigration has never been more current and holding a mirror to the nation’s wounded psyche is flavour of the month in Irish theatre circles.
Yet, two plays written by Irish playwright Tom Murphy more than twenty years apart and decades before the current strife the country finds itself in are again proving a popular draw with Irish audiences.
Themes of emigration and self-discovery abound in Murphy’s Conversations on a Homecoming - written in 1985 as a one-act play, an adaptation of his two-act The White House, penned in 1971.
While humour marks the play about friends meeting and discussing their dreams and failures, a darkness underpins the Galway scribe’s first offering, 1961’s A Whistle in the Dark, set in Coventry in that era and dealing with a family’s migration and sons turning against each other.
Both plays are being performed around Ireland by Druid Theatre Company, long associated with Murphy’s work. DruidMurphy bring both plays to Limerick this month, offering theatre goers a chance to compare and contrast two distinct works by one of the country’s top dramatists, in two world class productions.
“It gives you a great sense of Murphy the man and the writer, the two plays together, you really get a sense of him and what he likes to write about,” explains Irish actress Marie Mullen, who plays Missus in Conversations and is a founding member of Druid.
“He is the most amazing writer we have ever produced, I believe that myself, the way he sees things, it makes me proud to be Irish,” she adds, no faint praise from this award winning veteran of stage and screen, who has appeared in some of Druid’s most memorable productions.
“The words that he puts in our mouths, in both plays, are wonderfully articulate - even the characters that are not that articulate are interesting, and he has a great talent for doing things like that,” she explains.
Last year Druid took the plays - along with a third of Murphy’s called Famine - on an international tour, with the New York Times hailing the productions as ‘epic theatre making’. The return of these two plays to an Irish stage is poignant, Mullen admits.
“They are so poignant now when all our young people are leaving again, it just gives you a sense of how awful it is to have to leave your own community and culture and not be able to earn your living in your own country, the displacement element of it,” she says.
“There is a sense of Irishness and Tom is very good at that. He doesn’t talk down to people, he allows you to make your own judgement. He shows us as Irish people that we are very strong, we have bad sides and good, but what you see is the whole package.”
Director Garry Hynes, who brings a fluency and fluidity to the plays, combined with a simple staging, has hailed Murphy as “one of the great writers of our time”, a fact audiences will be in little doubt of after seeing these powerhouse productions.
Both plays are stuffed with some of the top Irish actors that remain on these shores, diligently plying their trade. The Lime Tree Theatre will host a double bill of both plays on Saturday, June 22, while the two plays will run alternately on a nightly basis prior to that.
Featured in the plays are Gavin Drea, Garrett Lombard, Rory Nolan and Marty Rea, plus Mullen herself, who recently won a Best Supporting Actress Award for her performance.
“It is wonderful to be associated with the company, but there is good new blood coming in now,” she explains of Druid.
“We were very young when we started off - we had loads of energy and hopes about the possibilities - everything is possible when you are young.
“That is what Druid still needs and it has a glorious array of really brilliant young actors in these two plays, it is a pleasure for me to work with them. They are just so talented and really get the stuff and they care so much about the work.”
DruidMurphy: Conversations on a Homecoming and A Whistle in the Dark are at the Lime Tree Theatre from June 18-22.