Brenda Murphy's most personal play to date shows it has legs
Brenda Murphy's new play Two Sore Legs is her most personal to date – a one-woman show based on her mother, who had six children by a married man. After rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe, the play is back on tour in the north. The Belfast playwright talks to Brian Campbell
'STRANGER than fiction' is certainly one way to describe the story behind Two Sore Legs.
Belfast playwright Brenda Murphy (A Night With George) based the play on the life of her mother Bridie, who had six children (including Murphy) with a married man.
In staunchly Catholic West Belfast in the 50s and 60s, this was seen as scandalous by many people. She received abusive letters from neighbours and the parish priest wanted Bridie to give the children up for adoption but she refused to even consider that option.
The play starts with a funeral scene and another strange but true fact, as mentioned in the play, is that Bridie picked a coffin for herself in an undertaker's after complaining to doctors about her heart, only to get the all-clear after tests. She died six days later.
The Green Shoot Productions play is both moving and funny, a one-woman show in which Bridie is played by Maria Connolly. It has just enjoyed a hugely successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe and is now on tour across the north.
“It's just taken on life of its own,” says Murphy. “Edinburgh was amazing. I was over for the last week and I couldn't believe the reviews. I thought there was some bribing going on,” she laughs.
“A girl from a theatre in Bombay came. She said she wanted to take it to India. I don't think it would travel to Bombay. She might get stoned to death,” she laughs again.
“There was a guy from a theatre company in Prague and a few Germans. The reaction was extraordinary. It's done well wherever it's been.”
Humour in it is key, according to the playwright. “My mother was very funny. The blurb that went out originally didn't make the play sound funny and I didn't want people to think it was like a 'misery play'.”
Murphy insists this is not just a play for women. “In Edinburgh I was talking to a young man who was sobbing and laughing and I thought, 'Is he all right?',” she says. “He said he was adopted and had never found his mother and was still trying. He said to me [the play] was a great story. He didn't know that I wrote it.
“He said he had nice parents but he always wondered why his mummy gave him up. I said to him, 'Maybe she didn't give you up. You don't know what her story is.' This play brings up things like that.”
The play's tour continues in Newtownabbey tonight, Antrim tomorrow and Enniskilllen on Saturday;next week it heads to Newry, Banbridge, Larne, Monaghan and Strabane before coming to Belfast.
Maria Connolly has got rave reviews for her portrayal of Bridie; Lyric Theatre executive producer Jimmy Fay said last week that “her performance was one of the best I've ever seen”.
Murphy says that the way the actress transforms into Bridie is “uncanny”. “There's something about the way Maria moves on stage that just reminds me of my mummy. I told her about all the mannerisms at the start, but now there are nights I look at her and it's scary how like her she is.
“I'm still amazed at her performance. She deserves to shine. In Edinburgh people said to me, 'She should be in the West End'.”
The play was first staged across the north last year as one third of the Flesh and Blood Women bill, alongside works by Dawn Purvis and Jo Egan.
“When Martin Lynch asked me to write a play about a woman, I decided to write about my ma,” says Murphy.
“It's easy to dismiss her life and some people say 'That's desperate' but there was more to her than that. She worked so hard for us. She had a good family around her and she worked three jobs.”
Murphy's father, meanwhile, was happy to stay with his own family while seeing Bridie on the side.
“I hated the man and I still do. I felt that he used my ma. She loved him and that was it; there was no talking to her. He didn't help out with money or anything. I thought he was useless.”
In the play, Maria Connolly wears a fur coat in honour of the coat that Bridie so loved.
“She did have a gorgeous fur coat, although I know it's not PC now. I think she was paying it off for years. She was stylish, my ma. She loved her high heels. Small woman, very big personality,” says Murphy.
“She died about five years ago. She dropped dead. She had been to the doctor and said there was something wrong with her heart, so we took her down to get ECGs and other tests and they said nothing was wrong.
“She went to the undertaker's and bought a coffin and dropped dead six days later. You couldn't make it up. But it's true. She had said to me, 'I'd like you to write about me, but don't make me an auld doll' so I didn't. I only wish she was alive to see the play. She would love it.”
:: Two Sore Legs is on tour from tonight until September 26, before its run at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast from September 29 to October 3. For all tour dates, visit Facebook.com/GreenShootTheatre.