With the death of playwright Tom Murphy, Ireland has lost one of the nation’s finest exponents of theatre. His career spanned more than six decades.
But, while we have lost the man, we are blessed with the legacy of his work, not just because of its extraordinary length, but also due to its remarkable breadth.
Although a distinctly Irish voice, the Tuam-born playwright was more than a chronicler of the diaspora, producing a body of work characterised by universal themes of rage and despair, but always tempered with optimism and redemption. Daring and audacious, he was a great experimenter with form as well as content, from the naturalistic Whistle In The Dark to the surreal The Morning After Optimism.
His partnership with Druid Theatre in Galway,in the 1980s produced exhilarating stagings of On The Outside, Conversations On A Homecoming, and Bailegangaire, the latter with the late, great Siobhan McKenna in the central role of the senile matriarch, Mommo.
He was never afraid to be controversial or provocative.
The Abbey Theatre debut, in 1975, of The Sanctuary Lamp, a savagely anti-clerical work, provoked an explosive audience response, akin to the riots that greeted Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars half a century before.
When it was revived at the Abbey, in 2001, it was re-evaluated as one of Murphy’s finest works.