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Comptes rendus de lectures

Keith Hopper and Neil Murphy (eds.), Dermot Healy, The Collected Plays

Dublin, Dalkey Archive Press, 2016
Shaun Richards
p. 196-198
Bibliographical reference

Keith Hopper and Neil Murphy (eds.), Dermot Healy, The Collected Plays, Dublin, Dalkey Archive Press, 2016, xxxiii+583 p., ISBN 978-1-56478-930-3, 20,66€.

Full text

1With Dermot Bolger’s The Lament for Arthur Cleary (1989), the stage world of Connemara kitchens was decisively displaced by a play which was formally radical and broke with the traditional tropes of Irish theatre in presenting a bleak contemporary Dublin scarred by unemployment and heroin addiction. However, five years before Bolger’s iconoclastic breakthrough, Dermot Healy’s first play, Here, and There, and Going to America (1985), broke equally new ground in following the journey of a Sligo punk and his skinhead brother away from the local dole office to London as an intended staging post to the USA. The play covers 14 scenes, each introduced by “a character in top hat and tails who will turn over the pages on a noticeboard where in legible scrawl are the names of the scenes’” which include a graveyard in Sligo and a squat in London. Now, with the publication of Healy’s collected plays in the ambitious Dalkey Press project edited by Keith Hopper and Neil Murphy, we can see that throughout his thirteen plays, which date from 1985 to 2010, Healy was a restless experimenter with form and subject but also one who never settled into an individual style which developed depth and resonance.

2Only four of Healy’s plays were produced by professional theatre companies, Mr Staines (1999) by Pan Pan, On Broken Wings (1992) and Last Night’s Fun (1996) by Omnibus Theatre and Metagama (2004) by Theatre Hebrides; with only Pan Pan still functioning as an active company. The rest were performed by various community and youth groups, schools, and prison inmates and, as in the case of Men to the Right, Women to the Left (2001) and A Night at the Disco (2006), frequently written in collaboration with them. As Healy said of his work with a school in Ballina, Co. Mayo, “It may be local and appear trivial, but to them at the time it was all important … They wrote it, and I listened in.”

3The strength of Healy’s drama is then its wholehearted commitment to giving voice to those outside of professional, Dublin theatre – and its audiences. Indeed only two of his plays were premiered in Dublin, the rest in Ennis, Clones, Castle­rea, Drogheda, Ballina, Stornoway and, particularly, Sligo, with Healy directing eight of them. The result of this engagement with the non-metropolitan world of grass-roots theatre is a freedom to experiment and the plays are innovative in their use of swiftly flowing scenes, lights, masks and music. They range in subject from the absurdist meta-drama Mr Staines and the pacy, music-based comedy, Last Night’s Fun (1996) to more realistic themes of the prison play, Serious (2005), and The Long Swim (1987) with its sensitive depiction of the effect of Alzheimer’s Disease on a marriage.

4The attraction of Healy’s drama lies in its thematic variety and exploration of experimental staging – even in the most socially-engaged plays. But perhaps as a consequence of never establishing a partnership with an established company, such as that of Tom Murphy with Druid, which would have honed his dramatic skills, none of the plays achieve the power and mastery of his novels even while they share their concern with the displaced and marginalised. However, Healy’s engagement with local groups makes him and his plays significant in a theatre culture so dominated by Dublin, and in a world where the Connemara kitchen is the default position of Irish drama, Healy’s formal experimentation is to be celebrated. This first edition of his collected plays is to be welcomed as a valuable contribution to our understanding of the complex totality of Irish theatre.

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Bibliographical reference

Shaun Richards, “Keith Hopper and Neil Murphy (eds.), Dermot Healy, The Collected PlaysÉtudes irlandaises, 42-1 | 2017, 196-198.

Electronic reference

Shaun Richards, “Keith Hopper and Neil Murphy (eds.), Dermot Healy, The Collected PlaysÉtudes irlandaises [Online], 42-1 | 2017, Online since 29 June 2017, connection on 05 October 2022. URL:; DOI:

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Shaun Richards

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