Marie 'digs deep' in Druid's major tribute to Tom MurphyJune 7, 2012 - 7:00am
I’m so glad I was asked to be part of this,” says actress Marie Mullen about her involvement in DruidMurphy, the epic project which sees Druid Theatre staging three of Tom Murphy’s finest plays – Conversations on a Homecoming, A Whistle in the Dark and Famine.
This isn’t false modesty from one of Ireland’s finest actors – “they could easily have been staged without me,” says Marie of the two plays she’s involved in. But, given her long association with Tom Murphy and Druid, it would have been most unlikely. In fact, so highly does Tom Murphy regard Marie’s talent and her work ethic that he specifically asked for her to be part of DruidMurphy.
The three plays, which explore issues around emigration, are currently running at the city’s Town Hall Theatre, before the production opens in London later this month as part of that city’s Cultural Olympiad.
Individual plays are being staged on separate evenings, with all three being presented in a full cycle on selected days. The first full DruidMurphy cycle took place last Sunday.
“Sunday was really strange because we didn’t really know how they were going to go down, but we were greeted with such warmth,” says Marie of the audience reaction.
“During Conversations, they were guffawing, they were game ball for Whistle and we thought they might be exhausted then, but they were energised for Famine.”
After the performance, the cast were joined on stage by Tom Murphy, so it was a very emotional day for everybody concerned.
DruidMurphy is a unique journey for Marie, who previously appeared in both Conversations and Famine with Druid during the 1980s. The company she, Garry Hynes and Mick Lally had founded was in its early years then and she says working with Tom Murphy changed everything.
“When he came to us as Writer-in-Residence, he was there to help us and challenge us. The company grew up when Tom came to us.”
He treated them like grown-ups, she says – and he extends that respect to his audience as well.
“His writing shows us what we are like, good and bad,” she says. With a play like A Whistle in the Dark, he introduces the violent emigrant Irish family, the Carneys and “helps us to understand them and be appalled by them”.
As a writer, Tom Murphy isn’t afraid to go into the dark places of the soul, so his plays are challenging for actors – and rewarding once you are prepared to put the work in.
“If you are ‘surfacey’ you won’t land what he means – you have to come up with something that’s worthy of him.”
And given that Marie regards Tom as being central to her career, he is worthy of the best from her.
“The highlights of me learning my craft belong to Tom,” she says, as she recalls working on his play, Bailgangaire with Siobhán McKenna and Mary McEvoy, under Garry’s direction.
Tom was deeply involved in that production and “he made me search and look for authenticity and made me look deeply. He made me dig”.
Marie is an actress who ‘digs’ in every role she takes on – it is that capacity which has makes her so special on stage, and which has seen her win accolades and awards, including a Tony for her role as Maureen in the Beauty Queen of Leenane.
For the current production of Conversations on a Homecoming, she is taking on the role of Missus which was played by Pat Leavy in Druid’s original production in 1985. Back then, Marie played Peggy – that role is being taken by Eileen Walsh this time.
This is a different experience to first time around, says Marie, name-checking the original cast of Maeliosa Stafford, Ray McBride, Michael Brennan and Seán McGinley – her husband.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.