WHAT started in 2012 as a one-man show for the Bealtaine Festival, celebrating creativity in older people, has since morphed into an international touring show garnering a rave review in the New York Times, writes.
Mikel Murfi’s The Man in the Woman’s Shoes will be performed again at the Everyman in Cork with Murfi’s new follow-up show, I Hear You And Rejoice, being staged the following night.
Murfi was originally commissioned by the Hawk’s Well Theatre in his native Sligo to create a play inspired by older people. He spoke with retirement groups about their lives and the characters they remembered from around the town. The result was premiered in an old folks’ home.
As Murfi says, nothing too outlandish happens in The Man in the Woman’s Shoes which is about a cobbler called Pat who walks five miles in a pair of shoes he has made for Kitsy, a woman he adores, to break them in. En route, he meets various characters.
Murfi, speaking on the phone from Cologne where he is performing in Michael Keegan-Dolan’s version of Swan Lake, says he was wary of making a second one-man show with the same characters because people were so enthusiastic about the first piece.
“I felt it was high risk. I had to be sure that I needed a purpose as a writer for the second piece. Otherwise, I’d have just being writing it out of being flattered.
“It has turned out to be a really lovely companion piece. I play all the characters, about 15 to 20 people in each show. It’s really reflecting on the lives we all lead, everyday lives that are not starry and celebrity-driven.”
Unlike the writing of his contemporaries, Murfi’s work doesn’t fit into the visceral, highly dramatic and sometimes violent genre so beloved by the likes of Enda Walsh, Martin McDonagh and Micheal Keegan-Dolan. Murfi has done a lot of work with Walsh and Keegan-Dolan and enjoys the challenge.
“But,” he says, “my general disposition is that of a very happy guy. I also like making work that is uplifting. I think you’re as entitled to go to see something uplifting as you are to see something challenging and
When I was doing the companion piece to The Man in the Woman’s Shoes, I certainly wasn’t going to go back into a care home with a wrist slitter. I wanted to bring people something that reflected who they are. And the older people that I was meeting were very contented people.
Murfi says he is also a sentimentalist. “There are some great theatre aesthetes, people who think they’re on a higher level than anybody else. They think theatre has to be visceral and dramatic and that sentimentality has no place in the theatre. I think they’re entirely wrong. So it’s a little case of one-in-the-eye to those people, to make a show that is happy in a non-bigheaded way.”
Trained in the physicality of theatre at the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris, Murfi revels in playing multiple characters. He rises to not just the physical challenge but also, the vocal one.
“At one stage in The Man in the Woman’s Shoes, there’s a three-way conversation between three different characters. The dialogue is incredibly quick so the onus is on me to change my physicality and my vocal range in super quick time and try to convince the audience that I am all these people.”