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The three plays of Druid’s celebration of Tom Murphy, one of Ireland’s greatest living playwrights, span a quarter of a century of his work.

All touch on the theme of emigration and ranging from his first success in 1961 to Conversations on a Homecoming, which premiered in 1985.

Each stands completely alone (though brave souls can catch all three on cycle days) but it’s the still shocking early piece A Whistle in the Dark, set in Coventry in 1960, which proves the most memorable with its portrayal of the Carneys, an Irish immigrant family of brawling, boozing thugs, unwelcome guests in the home of Michael (Marty Rea) the eldest of five brothers. Married to a local girl and determined to avoid the mindless violence instilled by their braggart (but ultimately cowardly) father (Niall Buggy), he’s caught between family obligations, his wife, and a strong desire to stop his youngest sibling from following a path of criminality, bloodlust and senseless tribal rivalry.

Conversations sees another Michael returning from the States after a decade as a struggling actor.  Life hasn’t worked out how he or his stay at home contemporaries had hoped, and, as the reunion in the local Galway pub wears on and pint follows pint, the disillusioned bitterness of his old mate (Garrett Lombard) overflows and Michael’s nostalgia for the possibility of resuming his old way of life dims.

Finally, Famine (1968) depicts the devastating effects of the Great Famine which began in 1845 when the crucial potato crop failed and emigration or death by starvation became the only options for many of those who lived on the land. Garry Hynes’ production incorporates several profoundly moving tableaux as the body count rises and Brian Doherty’s County Mayo village leader is rendered progressively more helpless as government help fails to materialise. But though it, too, is powerfully acted, the writing doesn’t always hold one’s interest in what was a tragic and defining period of Irish history.


Hampstead, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU
Tube: Swiss Cottage
Until 30th June
£29 each play or cycle days £66 for all three
hampsteadtheatre.com

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Theatre review: DruidMurphy at Hampstead Theatre
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