Brenda Murphy

The playwright looks forward to A Night With George at Féile an Phobail. Click Play Video for a podcast interview

Brenda Murphy has no idea what I look like nor what gender I am, so everybody who comes through the door at An Culturlann in Belfast is accosted and questioned. ‘Are you Lee Henry?’

When I finally do arrive (a funeral procession heeded my progress) Murphy sits me down like a long lost nephew and talks enthusiastically until I leave.

‘There was a Norwegian woman came in there now,’ she tells me. ‘I asked her if she was Lee Henry, and she said [adopts Norwegian/Welsh accent], ‘No, I’m not, but would you happen to know a lady named Rosie Armstrong?’ Turns out she had visited Belfast 30 years ago. Well actually, I did know her. I used to live up the street from her ... west Belfast is like that. Everyone knows everyone else.’

Such community spirit perhaps explain why, when Brassneck Theatre Company began the search for a new work to produce, they turned to Murphy. Having co-written plays like Binlids: the Story of West Belfast Resistance, as well as Forced Upon Us and Working-class Heroes, Murphy showed that she was as much a part of the west as Brassneck itself. But the new work that she offered was a world away from anything she had written before.

A Night With George is the first play I’ve written that has a female lead,’ says Murphy. ‘All of my previous plays have been about men. Binlids had a 25-strong cast and only one female part. But I always wanted to write a play about Belfast women.’

The lead character in A Night With George is named Bridie Murphy. If the name rings a bell, that’s because it’s meant to. ‘My mother – who passed away last year – would always say to me, ‘When are you going to put me in one of your plays?’ So I did. I’m only sorry that she isn’t around to see it.’

George ClooneyA Night With George
is a one-woman play, following the domestic highs and lows of a prisoner's wife, Bridie Murphy (played by Donna O'Connor).

When her husband is released from prison with a newly-acquired PhD and a penchant for strapping young blondes, Bridie is forced to reassess her own life spent looking after the kids and keeping a house - and confront a lonely future she never envisaged occuring.

Bridie relates all of her woes to Mr Clooney. 'But people can see how we do it when they get to the theatre,' laughs Murphy.

Although a full-time playwright (she was awarded a £60,000 grant from NESTA to write another play, poetry collection and a novel) Murphy also works as a creative writing tutor. The idea for A Night With George presented itself after a teatime conversation with her all-female writing class.

'One of the women was complaining about her hangover. She said it was her 50th birthday the other day, and also her 25th [wedding] anniversary. Her mate said, 'That's like getting shot and stabbed on the same day, and celebrating it!' And she said, 'No, it's worse than that ... I stole a cardboard cutout of Daniel Craig from outside the picture house on Dublin Road.' Then another woman said, 'I'd rather go for George Clooney'. So I went home and wrote it down.'

The play was previewed in the Old Museum Arts Centre as part of the Pick 'n' Mix Mini-Festival, during which time O'Connor played the first act. The event sold out, which encouraged Brassneck to pitch the full play to Liverpool City Council as a potential inclusion in the city's Irish Cultural Day. 'But we've decided to hold it back until next year,' says Murphy.

'It might be set in Belfast, but there's a certain demographic in all communities that will be able to appreciate it - mainly women of a certain age. I want to see how the whole production goes down in Belfast as part of Féile an Phobail before taking it on a small tour of the country and bringing it to Liverpool.'

A Night With George runs in the Roddy McCorley Social Club in west Belfast from August 4-7, directed by Tony Devlin. Tickets are available via the Feile website.

Lee Henry