On the day the death of playwright Tom Murphy was announced, Lyric Theatre Executive Producer Jimmy Fay addressed the Belfast audience prior to the Lyric's opening night performance of Brian Friel's Lovers: Winners & Losers, by way of tribute to Murphy's extraordinary career.
Below, we republish his speech in full.
Last night just before midnight came the news that a titan of Irish Theatre had passed away. Tonight we honour the extraordinary legacy of the great playwright Tom Murphy and offer our condolences to Jane and his family. It’s good that it is happening on the opening night of a revival of an early play by Tom’s close friend and peer the extraordinary Brian Friel.
Tom was an exceptional talent whose plays in all their passion, violence and poetry performed like music. They provided shelter by showing us the storm both within us and without. Actors responded to his beautifully written troubled souls with stunning visceral and vibrant performances.
They just ate up his characters, his words, his passions. His reoccurring themes of aspirations and redemption in a world deep in disillusionment.
His titles were like mini-folk tales: Bailegangaire, the Blue Macushla, A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant, the Morning after Optimism, On the Outside, On the Inside, the Sanctuary Lamp, Too Late for Logic, Famine.
The Lyric holds itself proud in having produced several of Tom’s key plays over the years with a brilliant adventurous generation of actors, directors and designers taking inspiration from such plays as The Gigli Concert, A Whistle in the Dark (directed by Simon McGill) and Conversations on a Homecoming (directed by Conall Morrison). These productions featured wonderful actors such as Adrian Dunbar, Conleth Hill, Barbara Adair, Frankie McCafferty, Vincent Higgins, Eleanor Methven, Richard Dormer, Conor Grimes and Abbie McGibbon.
The Patriot Game by the brilliant Tom Murphy, performed by our Drama Studio in April 2016 was written as a commemoration of the 1916 rising. It dealt with themes of disillusionment, the search for forgiveness and the possibility of redemption arising out of history and politics. pic.twitter.com/qDtRkEsVDM— LyricTheatre Belfast (@LyricBelfast) May 16, 2018
Recently in April 2016, we produced Tom’s thrilling and inquisitive examination of revolutionary fervour The Patriot Game, set in the slums and streets of 1916 Dublin. Directed superbly by our Creative Learning director Philip Crawford with an ensemble of wonderful young actors as part of Lyric Drama Studio.
Tom loved actors and he loved theatre and he loved to challenge his audience. He seemed even to like going to see other people’s plays. His kindness, wit and advice to any young scut who hung around the Abbey in the mid-90’s & beyond was legendary. He’d have a pint with you in The Flowing Tide and dispense wisdom and poetry and snatches of Puccini arias in equal measure and as Garry Hynes from Druid said earlier today on the radio, ‘Everybody in Irish Theatre who met Tom was changed, and they were changed for the better’. His contribution to Irish Theatre is immense and ongoing and unique.
One of my prized memories of working in the Abbey was opening night at the superb revival of Seamus Heaney’s Burial at Thebes in 2008, afterwards in the Peacock bar Brian Friel, Seamus Heaney and Tom Murphy arms around each other’s shoulders, brandies in hand, singing, swaying, laughing, stopping and trying to remember the correct stanzas of an old folk song amongst each other. Friel was cheeky and impish, Heaney chuckling fondly and warm and Murphy was the body electric like a prize fighter with the voice of a tenor. These great gods of words and poetry basking in each other’s mighty radiance now gone, all gone too soon.
I ask you now in the great tradition of theatre farewells to honour his soul’s flight and join us in a final round of applause for the extraordinary Tom Murphy. May he rest in peace.
Thank you Tom.