Setanta Murphy - ‘enchanting’ play about age and fellowship

ONE MAN shuffles towards a certain death and the other shuffles uncertainly through life. The question Garret Keogh’s new play, Setanta Murphy raises - how to confront death – shines light on another: how to live a life.

After great success in Dublin, this heart-warming and thoughtful play comes to the Town Hall Theatre for one night only, on Wednesday June 9 at 8pm.

Setanta Murphy is a story about understanding people where a relationship develops between an old man and his grandnephew. It is about the comic (and tragic ) situations they find themselves in as the younger man becomes the translator and mediator in the face of the crumbling Irish health service.

Together they are thrown into the messy world of public hospitals until the central character, Paddy McDonnell, find himself in a nursing home, plotting his escape.

Paddy, played by the author, Garrett Keogh, is 90 and after a life of vigour, working in the Dublin markets from dawn ‘til dusk, his health is on the wane. His only attending relation is his grand-nephew, Setanta, played by Luke Griffin.

He comes for chats and cooks the odd dinner - with mixed results. Setanta is troubled: what to do about Paddy? The suggestion of a day care centre is raised but put to one side as the relationship develops and we are left with a rich drama full of nuance, redolent of Hugh Leonard’s Da.

“The play is based on experiences I had with a grand-uncle of mine that I looked after when he was in his ‘80s and ‘90s,” Keogh explains. “He was from Moore Street and was a very active, fiesty man. I enjoyed his company very much, even though it could be a bit of a love-hate relationship.

“Then he got sick and I encountered all the rigours of our health system from GPs to nursing homes etc. So from all that I wrote this story of a young man and an older one who are thrown together and after a tricky start a strange bond of affection develops between them.

“The relationship between the two men is the main content of the play but the failings of the health system are an element of the play too,” Keogh continues. “That said, this is not a political play or if it is it’s with a small ‘p’, it’s a very funny piece a lot of the time.

“One of the things that interested me is the wealth of experience that is embodied in a single person. I went into a room in a nursing home one day and there were maybe 20 people there who were all 90-100 years old so that’s nearly 2,000 years of accumulated experience right there!

“Jorge Luis Borges wrote a story that really struck me about someone who dies in a ditch and they were the last person alive to have seen Jesus. With each person who dies there is a unique human experience or witness that vanishes with them.”

Keogh has enjoyed numerous successes as an actor, playwright and director. He directed the first productions of new theatre work: Charlie O’Neill’s Rosie and Starwars (Stewart Parker Award ), Gerard Mannix Flynn’s Talking To The Wall (Fringe First, Edinburgh ), Paula Meehan’s Cell, and Heathcote Williams’ Hancock’s Last Half-Hour (Irish premiere ). He also directed an RTÉ TV documentary series about old people, Old Heads.

Keogh outlines the process behind Setanta Murphy’s evolution; “The writing of it happened in a DIY way. I did a public reading of the first draft of the script with Luke Griffin and the reaction was phenomenal, people laughed all the way through and that gave me the resolve to finish it.

“Then we did a one-act version in Bewleys and again it was very successful and later that year we did the full-length version and it was successful again so now we’re touring it with Lane Productions. It seems to have struck a chord. I think by doing something in theatre you can touch people with an artistic truth that is more effective than any amount of polemics or statistics.”

Keogh’s description of the positive response to the play is borne out by the adulatory reviews it has received, with The Sunday Independent hailing it as “An enchanting piece of writing ...Devastatingly and wickedly acted ...A hymn to fellowship and the human spirit...not to be missed”.

Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.

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