Sunday, 8 September 2013

Gerard Murphy

Born October 14th 1948 ; died August 26th 2013

When Gerard Murphy, who has died of cancer aged 64, returned to his beloved Citizens Theatre in 2012 to appear in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, no-one had any idea that it would be his final appearance at the theatre that launched his career. Now, however, Beckett's solo tale of an old man raking through his former glories contained on a series of reel to reel tapes looks like an oddly fitting epitaph.

Murphy gave a remarkable performance that was a mix of bravura and vulnerability, traits which defined his work over a near forty-year career, be it onstage at the Citz or with the Royal Shakespeare Company or in numerous television and film roles.

Gerard Murphy was born in Newry, County Down. As a shy child, he was set to be a musician, but recognised that if he went down that path, he would become even more introverted. Needing to find a voice, he approached his local theatre, thinking that acting was a 'night time job.' They employed him anyway. Murphy was equally naïve when someone suggested he attend one of the Citizens Theatre's open auditions, but again, he got the job.

Initially contracted for three months work on a production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus in 1974, Murphy's arrival at the Citz chimed with the Gorbals-based theatre's heyday as an international theatre unafraid to shock as it reinvented the classics for a sexually charged age. As a golden-haired innocent abroad, Murphy fitted in perfectly with the theatre's flamboyant aesthetic, and over the next three years appeared in plays by Brecht, Shakespeare, Wilde and de Sade. Murphy's Citz swan-song was supposed to have been in a production of Woyzeck, before a tragic accident involving a visiting company forced the theatre management to bring forward a new play, Chinchilla, by Citz director/writer Robert David MacDonald.

Murphy played the title role in MacDonald's epic study of theatrical maestro, Diaghilev, and gave a performance which impressed then Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Trevor Nunn enough for him to offer Murphy a job in Sean O'Casey' Juno and the Paycock, playing opposite Judi Dench. This began a relationship with the RSC which eventually saw Murphy appointed an associate artist with the company. This didn't stop him returning to the Citz to play Macbeth opposite David Hayman's Lady Macbeth, a role Murphy repeated in 1998, the last time he performed in the Citz for fourteen years.

In the interim, Murphy continued a career in film and television which had begun in his pre-Citz years with a couple of bit parts on TV cop show, Z-Cars. Murphy was a regular in 1979 mini-series, My Son, My Son, as well as Charters and Caldicot in 1985. Murphy appeared in 1988 Dr Who story, Silver Nemesis, and was a regular in McCallum (1995-98) and the Scarlet Pimpernel (1999). Murphy appeared in Waterworld and Batman Begins, and narrated the radio version of Lord of the Rings. His most recent onscreen appearance was in the feature film, The Comedian, released earlier this year.

Onstage, Murphy played Oedipus in The Theban Plays with the RSC, George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf/ at Bristol Old Vic, played the title role in Volpone at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and played Salieri in Amadeus at the Sheffield Crucible. Murphy toured in Christopher Luscombe's production of The History Boys and played in Sir Peter Hall's production of The Rivals.

In company, Murphy was a warm, generous and modest man with a wicked sense of fun who would rather not talk about his assorted talents, which included translations of French plays.

Murphy was nominated for the Best Actor award for Krapp's Last Tape at the 2013 Critics Awards For Theatre in Scotland. The award was won by Alan Cumming for his solo turn as Macbeth, but, with Cumming unavailable, the National Theatre of Scotland's Head of External Affairs, Roberta Doyle, picked up the award on his behalf. Doyle, who had known Murphy since his glory days at the Citz, used the occasion to pay tribute to Murphy, who was present. Few in the audience were aware of Murphy's illness, and that this may well be the final time he would be in a Scottish theatre.

It was the Citizens Murphy called home, and he spoke movingly of his prodigal's return to the Glasgow theatre in these pages during rehearsals for Krapp's Last Tape. In a theatre noted for the charisma of its leading actors, Gerard Murphy stood out as a quiet but powerful presence who epitomised the Citz's spirit in every way.

Murphy is survived by his sister Deirdre, brother Brian and numerous nieces and nephews.

The Herald, August 28th 2013


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