The Theatre of Brian Friel

Christopher Murray

DOI: 10.5040/9781408166383

ISBN: 9781408154496

Brian Friel is Ireland's foremost living playwright, whose work spans fifty years and has won numerous awards, including three Tonys and a Lifetime Achievement Arts Award. Author of twenty-five plays, and whose work is studied at GCSE and A level (UK), and the Leaving Certificate (Ire), besides at undergraduate level, he is regarded as a classic in contemporary drama studies. Christopher Murray's Critical Companion is the definitive guide to Friel's work, offering both a detailed study of individual plays and an exploration of Friel's dual commitment to tradition and modernity across his oeuvre.

Beginning with Friel's 1964 work Philadelphia, Here I Come!, Christopher Murray follows a broadly chronological route through the principal plays, including Aristocrats, Faith Healer, Translations, Dancing at Lughnasa, Molly Sweeney and The Home Place. Along the way it considers themes of exile, politics, fathers and sons, belief and ritual, history, memory, gender inequality, and loss, all set against the dialectic of tradition and modernity. It is supplemented by essays from Shaun Richards, David Krause and Csilla Bertha providing varying critical perspectives on the playwright's work.

What sets this monograph apart from others devoted to this key playwright are its many illuminating, nuanced, surprising 'framings' of Friel's plays by other plays from the Irish, English, and European stage. Murray's most provocative insights arise from his imaginative juxtapositions, for example, of Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Miller's Death of a Salesman … Murray's fluency with theater history beyond the twentieth-century Irish stage gives his survey its fl[a]vor and edge … I would include [The Theatre of Brian Friel] … among the indispensable recent full-length appraisals of this seminal figure of the Irish stag. English Literature in Transition

Murray's strength is in his citation of those individual performances of the plays which he has witnessed over the years, and it is rarer to find the opening night of a Friel play which he did not attend than one he did. New Theatre Quarterly

Creative, fertile and fresh. … Murray's kind of criticism is best described as classical, representing an exemplary standard within a basically traditional and long-established form or style. As a generalist analysis of Friel's plays and their impact on contemporary theatre, this is the best, most extensive and most up-to-date study so far. Nordic Irish Studies

There are new insights here for those who know Friel's plays well but a sound introduction for others who may be coming to him for the first time. By its combination of a chronological and thematic approach, it contrives to avoid a pedestrian plod through the life and works, its master argument capacious enough to include the many different ways Friel has adapted tradition to the conditions of modernity. The Friel that emerges from Murray's book is a playwright of ideas, a literary playwright for whom language is all important, whose career has been dedicated to the development of an “aesthetic of modern tragedy”. Breac