Plays by Tom Murphy

On the Outside

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It is the evening of the Teacher's Union dance, and Joe and Frank can't afford to get in. Frank is on a promise with a young teacher named Anne, whom he has had to avoid meeting beforehand lest she find out he can't afford to get in. These tradesmen's apprentices are embarrassed by their lack of funds and try every trick they can think of to get in, but spend the whole play outside the doors, seething over the 6s entrance fee, and the chastity their poverty has thrust on them.

In his introduction, leading critic Fintan O'Toole writes that 'within a a very simple story and a very short play a whole range of social tensions is dramatised; in the way the mundane story of two young men waiting outside of a rural dancehall which they haven't the money to enter takes on the metaphysical lineaments of heaven, purgatory and hell.'

On the Outside was first performed on stage at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin, on the 30th of September 1974.

The Sanctuary Lamp

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Harry is an out-of-work strongman seeking employment (and shelter) in the sanctuary of a local church. The priest of the church hires him as a clerk, but insists that the arrangement can't include domestic arrangements. He must leave at night and come back in the morning. And above all, he must maintain the flame in the pendant lamp that embodies Christ's presence in the church.

Harry takes him up on half of the offer, working hard then sleeping over, as he hopes to escape from the perceived betrayal at the hands of his ex-partner Francisco. Meanwhile, an innocent young woman named Maudie enters; she too has been using the chapel as a doss-house. When Francisco arrives, the trinity is complete, ready for an entanglement of friendship, rivalry, and perhaps even freedom.

Fintan O'Toole writes: 'With The Sanctuary Lamp, we get a modern play that has the scale of ambition of the Greeks. It is not just that the play is a version of sorts of the The Oresteia with Harry starting out as the Orestes of Eumenides, seeking sanctuary in the temple of Apollo from the Furies that pursue him, becoming Agamemnon haunted by the death of his daughter, and becoming again Orestes bent on revenge. More importantly, it is that Murphy follows the Greek original in seeking to make a play about nothing less than the replacement of the old gods by the new, of worn-out Christianity by a new faith in man.

'The Sanctuary Lamp was first produced by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 1975.

A Thief of a Christmas

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It will be a lean Christmas now that the villagers have failed to sell their wares at the market in the town. Glum, if not devastated, they gather in John Mahony's shop-cum-pub to sing songs, drink a little and worry for the season ahead. Among them is Costello, a gregarious man, full of laughter, who has seen the world perhaps a little more than the others and knows how to hold their attention.

When a stranger and his wife, grounded by the bad weather from getting back to their homes, enter the inn, a peculiar challenge emerges: that he, the stranger, is a better laugher than Costello. Betting begins on this uncanny contest, with stakes so high it becomes a matter of life or death for Costello, for the stranger, and for Mahony in whose house they convive.

A Thief of a Christmas was first produced at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in December 1985.

Too Late for Logic

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Christopher, a philosophy professor preparing a lecture on the work of Schopenhauer, is engaged by his son and daughter, Jack and Petra, to help rescue his brother Michael. Michael's wife, Cornelia, has died, leaving Michael in a pit of drunken despair, threatening suicide in a local pub.

Christopher, who wishes to remain in his ivory tower of philosophical reflections, reluctantly joins his grown children on their ultimately successful mission; Michael leaves the pub and eventually a funeral for Cornelia is held.

This apparently small sacrifice appears to cost much, however, as Christopher's desire to personally and professionally develop is parked in deference to his duties to his family.

The Irish Times described the play as 'One of [Murphy's] most disturbing, most affecting, and most subjective works . . . the whole adds up to an important event in Irish theatre'. Too Late for Logic premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in October 1989.

The Vicar of Wakefield

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Murphy builds a delightful, comic tale of righteousness and foolishness modelled on Oliver Goldsmith's classic eighteenth-century novel The Vicar of Wakefield.

An onslaught of misfortunes has beset the Primrose family; from his lonely prison cell, the unworldly vicar Dr Primrose relates the misadventures that have caused his downfall and brought disintegration and ruin to his loved ones. When the family’s fortune is lost, they are forced to move to more modest lodgings on Mr Thornhill’s estate, where Primrose’s beautiful daughter catches the covetous eye of the squire. Her folly and the family’s suffering tests the vicar’s determined faith in the goodness of the world, in a play that is both humorous, moving and an engaging renewal of a classic narrative.

Sometimes known as She Stoops to Folly, Murphy's adaptation of The Vicar of Wakefield, was first presented in 1995 at South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, California.

The Wake

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Vera O'Toole is alone, adrift and living dangerously in New York where she survives as a call-girl. But she has a sustaining thought, a dream. She is not alone, she feels, because she has a family in Ireland; she belongs; indeed, some day she may even become worthy of that family.

Now, as the story begins, she returns home to Ireland to pay her respects to her dead and beloved grandmother and to discover her dream, her sustaining thought, turning into a nightmare.

The Wake was described by the Mail on Sunday as 'Extraordinarily good . . . the power of the piece comes from Murphy's refreshing and almost defiant unpredictability, his refusal to impose a single limiting theme on this tragic-comedy . . . it somehow touches on everything and everyone Irish'.

The Wake was first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in January 1998.

A Whistle in the Dark

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The uprooted Carney family live in Coventry, England. Michael, the eldest, is the exception to the cult of violence that prevails; he would live a civilised life. But he has taken the tragic step: thinking to influence his brothers, he has brought them to live with him and his English wife in his Coventry home. And now two more are arriving from Ireland to descend on him.

Described by Time magazine as 'a play worth every tribute', A Whistle in the Dark was first produced by the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, in 1961.

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).