(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 5/16.)

Murphy gave the Irish canon a series of masterpieces. Peter Crawley assesses his drama

In 2006, during a public interview, Tom Murphy enumerated the three most common questions asked of a playwright: How do you write a play? What’s your play about? Where did you get the idea?

In his meticulous manner of speaking, lending unhurried emphasis to each word, he chose to answer the list in reverse.

“Where did you get the idea?” he began. “I think you might as well say, ‘Somewhere between heaven and Woolworths.’ Which is quite true. What’s the play about? I’d say a reasonable answer is to say, ‘My life.’ It’s not just an autobiographical thing, but it’s how I would apprehend life and in the course of creating a play to transcend that self and move it into art.”

He turned again to the first question – How do you write a play? – and answered, without a trace of flippancy, “I don’t know.”

Over the course of his long and distinguished career, one that gave the Irish canon a series of masterpieces, Murphy found a different answer to the question each time. “The most distinctive, the most restless, the most obsessive imagination at work in the Irish theatre today is Tom Murphy’s,” said Brian Friel, in 1980, before Murphy’s career had reached its midpoint, and the achievements of these two distinctly different artists became comparable.

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Photo: Irish Times

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