Tom Murphy (1935-) is Ireland’s greatest living playwright, with over 20
plays to his credit from his breakthrough success A Whistle in the Dark (1961) to Brigit
(2014). Based on the full archive of his
papers in the Library of Trinity College Dublin, this online exhibition
explores his achievements, the genesis of his work, and the triumphant staging
of his drama by the Abbey and Druid Theatres.
Fintan O’Toole on the impact of seeing Murphy for the first timeThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Nicholas Grene without outroThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Tom Murphy as Christy Mahon (c.1956-58)The Library of Trinity College Dublin
Murphy’s first experience of theatre was Tuam Little Theatre Guild, the very active local amateur drama society: here as Christy Mahon in J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World.
Manuscript of A Crucial Week in the Life (1961-62) by Tom MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Murphy’s summary of his early comedy of small town life, eventually staged as A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant, written before he left Tuam in 1962. (1/3)
The play, set in a small town in Ireland, covers a week in the life of young man, a shop-boy, who can neither live in nor leave his home town; who can neither marry his bank-clerk girl nor end the romance. The forces, imaginary and real, preventing him making a decision are: his own weakness, self-consciousness, class consciousness, community life – the provinces – the neighbours, the church, his parents, fear of the unknown etc. (2/3)
The play does not aim at a typical week or at realism in the sense of showing how the characters continually live. Its main concern is to recreate the feelings of a young man and his attitude towards, and his vision of, the environment he lives in. (3/3)
A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant (1969) by Dermot BarryThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
First production of Crucial Week at the Abbey Theatre in 1969, with Donal McCann (centre) playing John Joe.
Colm Tóibín on the Irish small town in MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The Imperial Hotel (c.1980)The Library of Trinity College Dublin
The Imperial Hotel in Tuam figures under its own name in The Wake (1998), where Vera scandalises her family and the town by engaging in a sexual threesome in the upper front drawing room visible through the large windows to all of the passers-by in the Square.
Murphy’s plays evolve during the writing process as he thinks through the conception, and are also often revised after first production.
Whistle Alternative Ending (1960-61) by Tom MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The ending of A Whistle in the Dark used in London premiere of the play staged by Theatre Workshop at Stratford East in 1961 in which Michael, deserted after he has killed his much loved brother Des, is left by his wife Betty and turned in to the police by his father Dada, assisted by the family hanger-on Mush. (1/2)
A policeman comes in the hall door. The father follows & pushes past him. Mush is seen standing at the door. The father points at Michael.)
Father: That’s him officer.
(The policeman walks over to Michael as the curtain falls.) (2/2)
Whistle Front Cover (1970) by Tom MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
1970 published text of A Whistle in the Dark with revised ending.
Whistle Revised Ending (1970) by Tom MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
In this revised ending Dada is isolated from his sons who gather round Michael and their dead brother Des.
Scene from A Whistle in the Dark (1986) by Fergus BourkeThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
A Whistle in the Dark has continued to be Murphy’s most frequently revived play: here 1986 Abbey production starring Godfrey Quigley (seated centre) as Dada.
Fintan O’Toole on Murphy as a playwright of migrationThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Manuscript Notes for The Sanctuary Lamp (1974-75) by Tom MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Notes for The Sanctuary Lamp showing Murphy’s process of cutting back characters and scenes from initial drafts of a play, concentrating in on the three main figures, Harry the circus strong man, Francisco the juggler and the waif Maudie whom they encounter in a church. (1/2)
The circus: Am I interested in a dying circus? Cut circus scene.
I’m finding my essentials: The essentials are already there but I couldn’t see them because of all the peripheral stuff. (2/2)
Murphy has always been aware of the theatrical impact of music (most notably in The Gigli Concert) and of story-telling (in Bailegangaire).
Garry Hynes on rehearsing Conversations on a HomecomingThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The Gigli Concert Alternative Ending (1982-83) by Tom MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
In early versions of The Gigli Concert the quack psychiatrist, then called J.P.R, dies in the end, having watched a “replica” of himself ‘singing’ Gigli in the final sextet from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Here, as often, Murphy used old blank diaries as workbooks (1/2)
Sextet continues to its conclusion, J.P.R. dead in his chair. (2/2)
B.Gigli "Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali" 1927The Library of Trinity College Dublin
Gigli sings Donizetti
The Gigli Concert Typescript Front Page (1983) by Tom MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Critics complained that the first production of The Gigli Concert by the Abbey Theatre in 1983 was too long. Murphy’s signed note on the original TS ironically mocks his own tendency to write plays on an impossibly epic scale. (1/2)
The play submitted to the Abbey Theatre: A four hour play before the silly clots turned it into a three-and-a-half hour one. Many extras, too numerous to mention, as distinct from what can be seen on the stage or what can be seen in the Gallery Press publication.
Next year the penultimate draft: a wonderful five hour play. (2/2)
Colm Tóibín on language and music in MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Bailegangaire Draft (1984-85) by Tom MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Early draft of Bailegangaire in which the old woman’s story is told straight through, almost without interruption, her granddaughter Mary’s silent presence only registered at the foot of the page. (1/2)
(A bed – the head-end down stage – and an old woman sitting beside it)
Now! And let ye be settling, my fondlings. Cause there’s a lot of people calling on me tonight. And I’ll be telling ye my nice story again. Yis, how Bailegangáire came by its appellation. Och ho-no ho ’gus haha, for isn’t it a good one! (2/2)
Druid Theatre's Bailegangaire by Tom Murphy - Siobhan McKenna as MommoThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The legendary performance of Siobhán McKenna as the senile grandmother Mommo repeatedly telling her always unfinished story in the Druid Theatre Company premiere of Bailegangaire in 1985; her carer granddaughter is played by Marie Mullen.
Garry Hynes on Bailegangaire and working with Siobhán McKennaThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Murphy is an extravagant writer, with much material ending up on the cutting room floor, but he is also economical, recasting earlier works in different media from television to theatre.
Snakes and Reptiles Manuscript (1967-68) by Tom MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Snakes and Reptiles, TV play broadcast by BBC in 1968, re-used in The White House and Conversations on a Homecoming. The title is taken from the bitter comment of Michael, the returning emigrant who finds himself unwelcome in his home town, commenting on a statue of St Patrick in the pub.
The White House Manuscript (1972) by Tom MurphyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The White House, a two act play staged by the Abbey in 1972, contrasting a group of young people in the White House pub in 1963 with their disillusionment ten years on. (1/2)
Act Two, Speeches of Farewell, set on the night of President Kennedy’s assassination, showing the enthusiastic decoration of the White House, was intended to come after the Act One Conversations on a Homecoming revealing the later dejected mood of the group. (2/2)
Conversations on a Homecoming Programme (1985) by Druid TheatreThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Conversations on a Homecoming, the standalone play created out of a revised version of one act of The White House, as triumphantly performed by Druid Theatre in 1985.
The twenty-first century has seen two major Murphy retrospectives: an Abbey season of his plays in 2001, and DruidMurphy, a sequence of three plays produced by the Druid Theatre Company and toured to Britain and the US in 2012.
Six Plays at the Abbey Programme (2001) by The Abbey TheatreThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Programme of season of six plays by Murphy staged by the Abbey.
Sarah Jane Drummey as Maudie in 2001 Abbey production of The Sanctuary Lamp.
Frank McCusker as Francisco in 2001 Abbey production of The Sanctuary Lamp.
Alan Leech as Edmund, Laura Murphy as Anastasia in 2001 Abbey production of The Morning after Optimism.
Druid Murphy Cover (2012) by DruidThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Book cover and trailer of DruidMurphy, the sequence of three plays, Conversations on a Homecoming, A Whistle in the Dark, Famine staged by Druid Theatre Company in 2012.
Fintan O’Toole on the privilege of seeing premieres of Murphy playsThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Tom Murphy and President Michael D. Higgins (2017)The Library of Trinity College Dublin
President Michael D. Higgins presenting Tom Murphy with the gold torc and the title of Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour of the arts in Ireland.
Curated by Nicholas Grene (School of English, Trinity College Dublin), and Liam Harrison.
For technical assistance we owe huge thanks to Greg Sheaf (Digital Systems and Services, the Library of Trinity College Dublin).
For permission to use photographs, we gratefully acknowledge the following: Dan Bourke, Corralea Court Tuam, Tom Lawlor, Paul McCarthy, Pat Redmond, Amelia Stein, Áras an Uachtaráin / Maxwells Photography.
From within Trinity College we wish to thank the following for their support of the project: Helen Shenton (Librarian and College Archivist), Jane Maxwell (Curator of Manuscripts), Caoimhe Ní Lochlainn (Head of Media Relations, Public Affairs and Communications), Sharon Sutton (Digital Resources and Imaging), Brian McGovern (IT Services).
For the filming and editing of the video, we are very grateful for the excellent work of Barry Lynch (Infocus Media).
For permissions and help in identifying archival sources outside Trinity College, we have to thank the following: Barry Houlihan (Hardiman Library, NUI, Galway), Mairéad Delaney (Abbey Theatre), Holly Faulkner (Gate Theatre), Róisín Stack (Communications, Druid Theatre).
Sourcing Images. We are grateful to Susan Furber (Bloomsbury) and Riana O’Dwyer (NUI, Galway) for sourcing images used in the exhibition. Above all, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tom Murphy who generously loaned us so many photographs from his personal collection.
For kindly agreeing to be interviewed for the exhibition, we wish to thank most warmly: Garry Hynes, Fintan O’Toole and Colm Tóibín.