A WHISTLE IN THE DARK by Tom Murphy, Abbey Theatre, 2001
It was the year, the month that two airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers and the world changed utterly, forever. That day, 9/11, we were rehearsing “A Whistle in the Dark” by Tom Murphy as part of the Abbey Theatre’s Tom Murphy Festival. I was working with the most wonderful actors David Herlihy, Declan Conlon, Don Wycherley, Barry Ward, Gary Lydon, Phelim Drew and Clive Geraghty and director Conal Morrison. It was lunchtime and as we stepped into Mary Macs pub in Ballsbridge for some lunch ( we were rehearsing across the road in an old church as the Abbey rehearsal room was being used by another cast for the feast of Tom Murphy plays about to be unleashed on the world ), there was an image on the pub’s tv of a show, or so I thought, of a new action movie of a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers. Quickly and shockingly we realised it was not the latest Hollywood blockbuster but real life. Myself and the Carney brothers ( their character’s family name in the play and the fond collective term I used during this time for these beloved, brilliant actors and men I was working with ) sat there in silence and watched the horror unfold on the tv news, and our world changing forever before our eyes. What could we do? It was 2pm. Time to go back to work and rehearse and enter that brutal brilliant world of Tom Murphy’s Greek tragedy. Don’s wife was at home by the tv and kept us posted all afternoon as to what was happening as the terrible horror and tragedy unfolded in New York. We rehearsed as the world changed forever outside.
I look at that photo today and am filled firstly with that awful memory of 9/11 and how the city of New York overcame such tragedy and picked itself up again after enduring such loss. I am also filled with deep love and gratitude for Tom Murphy who gave us such masterful, magnificent plays. It was a joy to play in “A Whistle in The Dark “. It is probably for me his most Greek and perfect play. To be honest all his plays are perfect but this has always had a firm hold of my heart. The chance for Michael Carney and his wife Betty to escape the violent tribe of his family and make a new life, and the horrifying tragedy that unfolds in his attempt. Betty, his wife who I played, was hope, the bridge, the future, the way forward for him and I love her for what she represents despite the fact that she fails in the end.
This amazing photo by Amelia of Betty, with the shadow of the Carney brothers in the background, I will always cherish. Firstly because of my love for Tom Murphy and these wonderful actors, my Carney brothers, my tribe and their extraordinary performances in the show. Secondly, when I witnessed my first Tom Murphy play “Conversations on a Homecoming” in Druid Theatre many years before this in Galway as a young one, Tom changed my life utterly, forever. I found my tribe, my way of being in the world and the reason I became an actress. Finally, despite the horror, the tragedy, there is always hope. Always a light. Today I feel that profoundly as we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Such loss and such pain for so many people breaks my heart. Also the damage to our fragile industry. Our theatres may be shut but we have our magnificent plays by writers such as our beloved Tom and our potent memories of every show we have seen and most of all we have HOPE. We will overcome. We will open again. There will be more plays, more magnificent memories to be created. A Whistle in the Dark.
CATHY BELTON 01/04/2020