Mini Reviews from London: three by Tom Murphy

by Lynn on June 28, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

Three plays by Tom Murphy, performed by the Druid Theatre Company at the Hampstead Theatre. Directed by Garry Hynes.

Conversations on a Homecoming.

Set in an Irish pub in a small village that has seen better days. The usuals are there for their pint or seven. They are hosting Michael, who is visiting from New York. They jostle and joke about life in the town. Gradually the conversation turns serious and angry by the local school teacher. He is bitter about what is happening to the town; bitter about the attitudes of his fellow Irish; commenting and cementing the stereotype.

Michael has not done well in New York and is reluctant to tell his friends. He is thinking of coming back. By the end of the evening everyone is weavingly drunk. And then they all DRIVE home to sleep it off until the next day, when they do it all again.

There is a sense of loss, anger, regret, longing and animosity in this beautifully written, achingly felt, wonderful production.

A Whistle in the Dark

Set in England. Four brothers and their father visit their brother Michael (a different Michael from Conversations on a Homecoming), bringing with them their chips on their shoulders, their disrespect of Michael and his brains, and their anger at all things English. The four brothers are set on having a brawl with a local Irish family to show them who’s boss. The bellowing father eggs on his boys, but is really a bully who hides from any involvement. He has done this all the boys’ lives.

Questions of place, respect, family feuds and picking up where old fights were left are the focus of this play. Michael, who has tried to leave all that behind, is caught in the middle. More volatile than “Conversations..” the writing is still rich, vivid and gut twisting.


It takes place in the west of Ireland in the poorest part, during the terrible potato famine of 1846. The gradual soul-crushing atmosphere of people not only struggling to make a living, but also to grow any kind of food to eat. Having to scavenge in the dirt of their fields to find even a root or twig to eat occupied the people. Trying to keep some sense of civility, some sense of humanity ground them down. The government was no help. A solution was to suggest that people emigrate away from Ireland. Some, so desperate moved. Others, not sure, stayed. They died anyway. Where is hope in this bleak, despairing world? At the end of this shattering play there is a sliver, a shred of light of hope and it’s not just a pat ending. It’s true and honest. The production again is stunningly directed and acted.

I saw them all on a marathon day. I left the theatre fragile, tearful and elated at having seen them.

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