1990s >> 1996 >> no-1102-june-1996

Theatre Review: Taking care of number one

Brothers of the Brush by Jimmy Murphy (Arts Theatre)


Capitalism brutalises human relationships. Politicians are right when they talk about the importance of ‘competing with economic opponents’ and ‘the struggle to survive’. The dynamics of capitalism sets class against class, pits country against country and individuals against one another.


The fortune tellers of capitalist economics argue that those who survive the vicious culling of the work force as companies struggle to reduce costs, feel powerful and empowered. Analysts report, however, that the facts are rather different: that the survivors are frequently inhibited by uncertainty and riddled with guilt.


In Brothers of the Brush, a new play by Jimmy Murphy, at the Arts Theatre, the corrosive impact of the black economy on working relationships is examined with an authentic blend of humour and merciless honesty. Four flawed but decent men fell victim of exploitation and the power games of management and unions, with predictable and tragic results.


Here is a play of rare passion and skill, with dialogue as sharp and convincing as anything currently available in London. Murphy chillingly demonstrates that morality is determined by the inexorable laws of economics, and that in the dog eat dog world of capitalist economics the niceties of social behaviour are frequently a victim of the need to survive.


Writing about his play Murphy observes that “In the black economy unions are as redundant as the workforce they once represented, old alliances are spurned, ideologies discarded, a new creed is the order of the day, look after number one”.


But looking after number one – whether it be class, group or individual – is at the very heart of capitalism. Murphy’s unsentimental, vivid and serious drama is in feet an unflinching attack on the barbarisms of employment


After the burdens of watching two pieces of pretentious, bourgeois drama on recent visits to the theatre, Murphy’s play is like a douche of cold, refreshing water. This is a play about real people feeling real dilemmas. It is beautifully constructed, poignant piece of theatre. If you can’t catch it in London do look out for it when it is produced locally. Thoroughly recommended.


Michael Gill