DruidMurphy, Town Hall Theatre, Galway – 3 June 2012

I knew very little about Tom Murphy before I started my MA in Drama and Theatre Studies last September. It seems embarrassing to say it now but I’m not sure I’d even heard of him. I must have come across him at some stage but I could just be saying that because his work seems so familiar to me now.

Tom Murphy was the first playwright we studied in Irish Playwrights since the 60s. Famine was the play I read and reported back on but we also talked about his other plays, particularly the ones that were produced by Druid. Then at the end of November, Druid announced their DruidMurphy cycle and suddenly Tom Murphy was everywhere!

In the second term we did a series of Masterclasses with Druid artists, some of whom were working on DruidMurphy. We did a directing masterclass with Garry Hynes using Tom Murphy’s first play On The Outside. We also had a class with the set and costume designer Francis O’Connor where he talked about choosing the set for DruidMurphy. He also talked about The Gigli Concert and had photos from that set and many others. It was an interesting and informative class and it was great that we had it in Druid Theatre where so many of the plays were staged.

At the end of March, two of my classmates started their internships with Druid, working on the DruidMurphy cycle. We barely saw them over the next few months – they were kept very busy, but they were there on the Sunday morning in June when I headed down to the Town Hall Theatre to see the first full-day DruidMurphy cycle. It felt a little bit strange to be arriving at the theatre when it was still light outside. Inside the foyer was filled with people looking forward to the day of plays, looking over the schedule, wondering how we’d cope with the long day, how we would feel 10 hours later.

Luckily the Town Hall Theatre seats are comfortable and relatively roomy. When we were booking my friend and I spent some time choosing our seats from the limited selection available. For a full day of plays, it was important that we got the seat selection right! We got a couple of seats at the back – it’s a small enough theatre that even at the back, you still have a good view.

The connecting theme between the three plays is emigration. The first, Conversations on a Homecoming is about the returning emigrant. Whistle in the Dark is more about the emigrant’s experience aboard though it is also about violence, family ties and masculinity. Famine is about how the waves of emigration out of Ireland began. Emigration is a relevant issue in Ireland today but it’s hard not to feel like we’re looking at these plays from a great distance. because it does say something about Ireland today. It was a bit backward looking though. It would have been nice to see a modern play there beside the older, reflective plays. Something that took into account the changes that the country has undergone over the last 20 years. But that wasn’t the aim of the cycle. It captured the results and causes of emigration for those who have gone before, it reminded us of our history.

Conversations on a Homecoming was my favourite of the three plays. This one at least had a few laughs in it. It was still not a particularly happy play but there were some moments when happiness seemed possible. The performances were also wonderful. Aaron Monaghan was excellent as estate agent Liam, while Marie Mullan was almost unrecognisable as the pub landlady. It can be a bit disorientating to return to the theatre after a short break and find a new set on stage and the same actors playing brand new characters. It’s hard not to connect what has gone before and the relationships between characters that were built up over the last hour and put all that on top of what you are seeing on stage. It is a very impressive feat for the actors and I have a huge admiration for them straddling these three plays. I think it’s a huge achievement for Druid and all the cast and crew involved. It’s an ambitious project and a feat they can be very proud of.

Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to see all three plays in one day. Each play stands up so well on it’s own that I’m not sure how seeing in the cycle really adds to the experience. (Apart from awe and admiration at the acting abilities of the performers.) If you would like to see the full DruidMurphy cycle, it’s at the Dublin Theatre Festival in October.

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In Praise of Galway

I’ve been working with Fishamble Theatre Company in Dublin for the last few weeks and while I’m enjoying the work and I love being back in Dublin, I spent a lot of time this week missing Galway. I felt like I was missing all the fun with the Volvo Ocean Race and Friday’s Silent Disco on Dominic’s Street. I’ve also been hearing stories of the endless lashing rain but it really hasn’t seemed to “dampened” the party spirit in Galway.

A few of my friends were performing on the Spoken Word stage in Volvo’s Global Village this week and a few more will be performing in the first ever Galway Fringe festival, which starts on 12 July. I definitely have to make a trip to Galway for that. I’m also looking forward to the Galway Arts Festival. It starts on July 16 and has loads of great shows including new Irish writing, all male Shakespeare and the famous Macnas parade which is free, and on July 22. And once the Arts Festival finishes, it’s time for the Galway Races. I’ve never been to the races but I’ve been told by many people that it is a very fun time. July is a busy time in Galway!

The Snug in Tigh Neachtain
The Snug in Tigh Neachtain
I had a great time studying in Galway this year and I really enjoyed getting to know the town. The people are friendly and there’s always a great atmosphere. If you’re tempted to visit yourself, I recommend staying close to the centre of town. Traffic is crazy and it can take a long time to get anywhere by car. It also rains a lot! I know people say it’s always raining in Ireland, but it really does rain more in Galway than the rest of the country.

That’s not a reason not to go but it is a reason to stay somewhere close to the centre of town because otherwise you’ll just spend your time trekking through the rain instead of sitting in a snug pub or a nice dry theatre.

Barnacles hostel
Barnacles hostel
Barnacles on Quay Street is perfect because it’s close to everything. There are at least three great pubs within spitting distance; it’s also very close to Shop Street where there are lots of great cafes. You have the famous McDonagh’s Fish & Chip Shop at the end of the road, though I’d also recommend The Kettle of Fish just round the corner on Cross Street – I haven’t tried their deep fried Mars bars yet, but the chips are excellent! It’s close to the Spanish Arch (and Nimmo’s restaurant – I’ve never been in but it always smells delicious – and the Galway Museum which has a great tea shop. It’s also just round the corner from Druid Theatre, where you can see The Great Goat Bubble, produced by Fishamble, from Thursday 12 July until Sunday 29!

And if you are lucky enough to get a dry, sunny day in Galway (it does happen sometimes!), it’s less than half an hours walk to Salthill prom. If you do go west, give my love to Galway and tell her I’ll be back soon!

The Highs and Lows of my MA

The first term of my MA is over. I still have one assignment left to hand in but essentially term is over and the Christmas holidays have started. It’s a bit of shock that the first term is over already but to be honest, I was a bit shocked to actually find myself doing the MA way back in September. I remember sitting in the Bank of Ireland theatre at the course induction meeting, hearing about the classes we would be taking throughout the year, and feeling surprised and amazed that I was actually there – I was actually doing this. This was despite, or maybe because of, the months of planning that brought me me there. I spent about nine months thinking about doing the MA before I actually applied. I liked the sound of the course and spent time writing my personal statement and gathering up all my supporting documents. I went through the checklist on Student Finance about six times to make sure that I really would be entitled to a grant, I did my sums wondering if I could afford it. I was amazed I actually made it happen after thinking about it for so long!

Once I got there, I had to get my head around the fact that I was back in college again. I thought it would be easy to get used to – after all, I’d done it before and this time I wasn’t even leaving the country. I was surprised how much I missed my life in Dublin, especially during the first few weeks in Galway. When I headed to London to do my BA, I was unemployed and living at home with my parents and not very happy with my lift. I had more to give up this time. I liked living in Dublin, I worked with people whose company I enjoyed, I had a job where I was liked and respected and where I was earning good money. I had friends in Dublin and my own little flat that I adored. And I turned that comfortable, enjoyable life upside down because I liked the idea of studying theatre again! There were times during those first few weeks when I wondered if I had made a terrible mistake! It’s hard to get used to not having any money (to be honest, I still struggle with that one some days!) and getting used to living in a house share is tricky too! Being forced to manage your own time after three years as an office drone isn’t easy; neither is trying to remember how to write essays and what is expected of you. To anyone thinking about returning to study, I would recommend writing out a list of all the reasons why you are doing it and what you hope to get out of it – it will be useful on the dark days when you wonder what the hell you were thinking and why you ever thought this was a good idea in the first place!

Thankfully, the risk paid off. I am really enjoying the course – I had great classes this year, I loved being back in a physical drama class again and devising little pieces of theatre, I liked reading plays and writing plays and talking about theatre, and going to see shows and discussing them afterwards with my classmates. I am also enjoying being a student again – I think it suits me! I have wonderful classmates who I am going to miss over the Christmas break and I’m looking forward to next term already. I have another physical drama class and I’m also doing a class in reviewing which means going to see something in the Town Hall Theatre every week and then writing! The class will be a writing workshop where everybody reads everyone else’s work and offers their opinions on it! Scary but useful, I think. I may throw a few of the reviews up here if they’re any good! So it’s worked out. I like my course, I like my classmates, I’m getting used to being a broke student again and I’m starting to like my life in Galway. Most days I love it and feel lucky and privileges and happy with the way my life is going. If nothing else the course has confirmed for me that working in the theatre is what I want to do.

“Playing the Dane” in Galway

Conor Madden, one of the three potential Hamlets
Conor Madden, one of the three potential Hamlets

I saw Pan Pan’s brilliant Playing the Dane at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2010 and loved it! If you’re going to see it, some basic knowledge of the story of Hamlet will help you enjoy it because it doesn’t really tell the whole story. But it does lots of other things instead, such as the first act which consists of auditions for the the part of Hamlet. After seeing the three auditions, the audience are then asked to vote for their favourite and the winner plays Hamlet in the second act! It deconstructions the play from a number of different angles; from the actors playing the eponymous Dane to an academic interpretation of the play. It is a different take on Hamlet but it’s very entertaining, the set is beautiful and there’s an actual Great Dane in the cast!

It’s on in the Black Box theatre in Galway tonight and tomorrow, tickets available from the Town Hall Theatre. Go see it!