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Tom Murphy Biography

(1935– ), A Whistle in the Dark, Famine

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mr Polly to New France

Irish playwright, born in Tuam, Co. Galway, educated at the Vocational Teachers' Training College, Dublin. He taught at a local vocational school from 1957 until 1962, when he moved to London and became a full-time writer. His first play, A Whistle in the Dark, having been rejected by the Abbey in 1960, was produced at the Theatre Royal in 1961. Kenneth Tynan described it as ‘the most uninhibited display of brutality that the London theatre has ever witnessed’. The play portrays the destruction of an Irishman living in Coventry during the 1950s, dramatizing the conflict between his bitter sense of displacement and his father's romantic illusions of identity and ‘home’. Famine (1968) concerns a community facing its own decimation and the real, historical destruction of its identity. A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant (1969) goes to the heart of Murphy's experience of stagnant rural existence. The experimental and disturbing The Morning after Optimism (1971) is a fantasy which presents an ageing whore and her pimp who meet their idealized alter egos in a magical forest, and murder them. Murphy was a director on the board of the Abbey from 1973 until 1983. The Sanctuary Lamp (1975) concerns three fighting down-and-out circus performers who spend the night in a church recounting their personal histories; The Blue Macushla (1980) is an unsuccessful attempt at tackling an overtly political theme. The Gigli Concert (1983) is a demanding play which portrays the breakdown of a millionaire builder, who has fulfilled his dreams of success but finds he cannot go on: not only has God deserted him, he has deserted himself. He pursues the healing order of music, developing a mad desire to sing like Gigli. Conversations from a Homecoming and Bailegangaire (Town-without-Laughter), produced in 1985, continue Murphy's concern with contemporary Ireland's loss of identity. His plays have been published individually and in collections, such as After Tragedy: Three Irish Plays (1988), A Whistle in the Dark and Other Plays (1989), Plays: One (1992), Plays: Two (1993), and Plays: Three (1994). His first novel, The Seduction of Morality (1994), is rich in digressions of rural story-telling tradition, and highly comic in its portrayal of female rivalries and family conflict over an inheritance.

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