JPW King is a dynamatologist – an English purveyor of a cultish quack psychology-cum-science whose Dublin office is far from thriving; indeed his professional space is also his only domestic arrangement as he eats rough meals and sleeps in the office, occasionally receiving visits from his lover Mona and making phone calls to his 'true' love Helen.
When an Irish man arrives to enlist King's services – he wants to be able to sing like the great Italian opera singer Beniamino Gigli – a symbiotic deadlock of character ensues, with each man playing his part, at times believing and then despairing of ever achieving any goal, whether practical or fantastic.
In his introduction to Murphy: Plays 3, Irish critic Fintan O'Toole writes: 'With The Gigli Concert, arguably Murphy's masterpiece, we get something even more ambitious [than The Sanctuary Lamp], a full-scale dramatisation of the impossible. With one set and three characters, Murphy gives us an operatic drama complete with deaths and arias, a version of Faust in which the Irishman's Mephistopheles tempts JPW into taking on his own demonic striving, and in which against all the laws of reality this down-at-heel alchemist finds the philosopher's stone of despair that enables him to transmute the leaden metal of his life into a moment of pure, glittering possibility.'
The Gigli Concert is an astonishing story of human intention and achievement. It was first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 1983.