Plays by Tom Murphy

Alice Trilogy

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Alice Trilogy is a haunting triptych of disappointment and gnawing sadness. Three acts, closer to monologues than conversations, show three ages in the life of Alice, an unhappy housewife.

1980, in the afternoon murk of her attic, with whiskey in her coffee, is she losing her grip on reality?

1995, she has summoned a lost love to meet her by the gasworks wall.

2005, at the airport, a tragedy presses to the surface of her internal monologue.

Alice is a mesmerising creation, existing only half in her domestic married life, and half in a dream-like world of alter-egos and strange detachment.

Alice Trilogy premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 2005.


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In Bailegangaire, an endless folk story told by a senile old woman is woven through her granddaughters’ arguments and struggles to free themselves from her.

Night after night, in lyrical and relentless detail, Mommo begins to relate the story of a laughing competition in Bailegangaire and how the town came by its name – ‘the town without laughter’. Of her two granddaughters, she only recognises Dolly, and not Mary who does most to look after her. The younger women yearn to be free of the past in order to make a new beginning, and Mary comes to believe that to do so the story of Bailegangaire has to be concluded.

In Mommo, Tom Murphy has created one of the greatest female characters of twentieth-century Irish literature. The play was first performed by Druid Theatre Company, Galway, in 1985.

Conversations on a Homecoming

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Fresh from an apparently successful acting career abroad, Michael has returned to his old home town; back to the youth club-turned-pub where he and his friends once hashed out their plans for the future. That pub, 'The White House', stood as a place where free thought was possible for the young people of the town, away from the church and from the school. Now, though, the reunited friends are tied down to the realities of their lives after youth has given way to slow but steady decay, and as the evening wanes to night, their true lack of direction becomes clear through muddled conversations as pints are poured and drank.

Standing over all of this are the absent bar owner JJ and his beloved portrait of the late JFK, both fallen heroes from an idealistic and idealised time now long gone.

Conversations on a Homecoming was first performed by the Druid Theatre Company, Galway, on 16 April 1985, in a production directed by Garry Hynes.

A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

John Joe Moran is a 34-year-old dreamer, a 'fooleen' of a man who can't decide whether to stick it out at home, or emigrate out to the great unknown. Instead, he toes neither line, choosing to half-working and half-dreaming his way to unemployment amid a community which struggles unceasingly with disguising the outward signs of their poverty.

A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant is a comedy about an unfunny situation, where laughs are found in the saying (in dreams) of what goes unsaid in real life. The resolution of John Joe's situation comes not from him maturing to a point of firm decision, but rather by shouting the absurdity of the choice from the rooftops.

A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 1969.

The Drunkard

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Edward Kilcullen is the almost entirely disinherited son of a local landowner, whose legacy is reduced to one small cottage, in which live his newly acquired tenants, Anabella and her mother, both almost totally penniless.

Edward and Annabella fall in love and marry, but this is not enough to cure Edward of the flaw that he believes may have led to his disinheritance: drunkenness. He ranges from from tavern to ditch in search of drink, as though pursued by some evil spirit.

In fact, the evil spirit that pursues him is McGinty, the lawyer who served Edward's father. McGinty is possessed of a profound bitterness against the Kilcullen family, and is sworn to reduce Edward even further than the drunk-sopped destitution towards which he drives himself. Is there anyone who can save Edward and his new family from the thirst that rises incessantly in his throat?

The Drunkard is an adaptation of a nineteenth-century play of the same name written by the pseudonymous authors "W. H. Smith and a gentleman", the latter believed by many to be P. T. Barnum. Murphy adapted the play for the b*spoke Theatre Company, who premiered the play at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, in 2003.

The Gigli Concert

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

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.

The House

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Summertime, and the emigrant workers, dressed in new suits and dreams, are returning home for the annual sojourn. They are young, vigorous, and have money in their pockets, but they do not belong here anymore – and they do not belong abroad.

As a result, they are resentful and dangerous and none more so than the seemingly gregarious Christy Cavanagh. His childhood fixation with Mrs de Burca and her daughters becomes a frightening obsession when he finds that the date has been set for the auctioning of their house; his bid to possess that heaven has tragic consequences.

The House premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in April 2000.

The Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

An epic family drama about greed and control, telling the tragic story of the disintegration of a family, along with their estate and way of life.

Arina is an ambitious woman. As a servant girl, she marries in to the degenerative family she works for; her ruthless energy saves it from bankruptcy and she expands the family estate into a land empire. Now, as a severe and hardened matriarch, she rules with an iron hand and insatiable avarice, competently managing every inch of her empire – until she begins to question herself. Resigning her power and dividing her lands between her children, she sees the family and the estate crumbling before her eyes.

Tom Murphy’s haunting play, shot through with dark humour, is a compelling depiction of hypocrisy and degeneration. Inspired by The Golovlyov Family by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, the play premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Ireland, on 3 June 2009.

The Morning After Optimism

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

James, a temporarily retired pimp, is on the run from a shadowy pursuer. His mother has just died and he is cynical to the point of despair about what should become of him. With him is Rosie, his long-time 'girl', who encourages him to think ahead, offering a less pessimistic view of his prospects.

In the forests through which they flee, James encounters a pretty, innocent girl of 17 named Anastasia. She has been alone a long time, and like many a fairy-tale woman, is awaiting a dashing saviour to arrive.

In his introduction, leading Irish critic Fintan O'Toole writes that 'The Morning After Optimism draws on Shakespeare's Forest of Arden for its setting, on Jungian psychology for its imagery, and on European fairytale for much of its shape, language and action . . . [it] is certainly no ordinary play, with its consciously artificial language, its use of fairytale characters, and its exploration of the relationship between illusion and freedom . . . Optimism proclaims itself by its setting, by its use of characters who dress and talk like they are well acquainted with the Brothers Grimm, for what it is: a play of the dream world.'

The Morning After Optimism was first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in March, 1971.

On the Inside

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A companion piece of sorts to On the Outside, On the Inside shows the disappointing reality of the dance that others yearn so desperately to enter. It is the Teacher's Union dance, and at 6s per head entrance, only those with wages and prospects can enter. One of those, Kieran, is none too impressed with the average looking prospects that he has to offer, and seeks a way to escape the inevitability of his average looking girlfriend, and the life that they are heading towards. But like the fun of the dance, even the desire to escape fails to take off fully, and in the fug of drunkenness at the end of the night, Kieran restates his commitment to his mundane existence.

Performed for the first time just weeks after the premiere of On the Outside, On the Inside was first staged at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin, on the 18th of November 1974.

Picture of Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy was born in Tuam, County Galway. He lives in Dublin. He has received numerous theatre awards and holds honorary degrees from Trinity College Dublin and NUI (Galway). A six-play season celebrating his work - Tom Murphy at the Abbey - was presented at the Abbey Theatre in 2001.

He has written for television and film, and a novel, The Seduction of Morality. His stage plays include On the Outside (with Noel O'Donoghue), A Whistle in the Dark, A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant, Famine, The Morning After Optimism, The White House, On the Inside, The Sanctuary Lamp, Epitaph Under Ether (a compilation from the works of J.M. Synge), The Blue Macushla, Conversations on a Homecoming, The Gigli Concert, Bailegangaire, A Thief of a Christmas, Too Late for Logic, The Patriot Game, She Stoops to Folly (from The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith), The Wake, The House, The Drunkard, The Cherry Orchard (a version), Alice Trilogy and The Informer (from the novel by Liam O'Flaherty).