Conor McPherson, Irish playwright, screenwriter and director of stage and film, is born in Dublin on August 6, 1971. In recognition of his contribution to world theatre, he is awarded a doctorate of Literature, Honoris Causa, in June 2013 by the University College Dublin (UCD).
McPherson is educated at University College Dublin and begins writing his first plays there as a member of UCD Dramsoc, the college’s dramatic society, and goes on to found Fly by Night Theatre Company which produces several of his plays. He is considered one of the best contemporary Irish playwrights. His plays attract good reviews, and have been performed internationally (notably in the West End and on Broadway).
McPherson’s 2001 play, Port Authority, tells of three interwoven lives. The play is first produced by the Gate Theatre of Dublin but premiers at the New Ambassadors Theatre in London in February 2001, before moving to the Gate Theatre in April of that year. The production is directed by McPherson himself. New York‘s Atlantic Theater Company stages a production of the play in the spring of 2008, starring Brian d’Arcy James, and Tony Award winners John Gallagher, Jr. and Jim Norton. The New York Times critic Ben Brantley says, “I found myself holding on to what these actors had to say as if I were a five-year-old at bedtime being introduced to The Arabian Nights.”
McPherson also directs his play, Dublin Carol, at the Atlantic Theater Company, New York, in 2003.
McPherson’s 2004 play Shining City opens at the Royal Court Theatre and prompts The Daily Telegraph to describe him as “the finest dramatist of his generation.” A meditation on regret, guilt and confusion, the play is set entirely within the Dublin offices of a psychiatrist who himself has psychological secrets. While much of the play takes the form of monologues delivered by a patient, the everyday stories and subtle poignancy and humour make it a riveting experience. It subsequently opens on Broadway in 2006 and is nominated for two Tony Awards, including Best Play.
In September 2006, to great critical acclaim, McPherson makes his Royal National Theatre debut as both author and director with The Seafarer at the Cottesloe Theatre, starring Karl Johnson and Jim Norton, with Ron Cook as their poker-playing, Mephistophelean guest. Norton wins an Olivier Award for his performance while McPherson is nominated for both the Olivier and Evening Standard Theatre Awards for Best Play. In October 2007 The Seafarer opens on Broadway, keeping with it most of its creative team, including McPherson as director and both Jim Norton and Conleth Hill in their respective roles, with David Morse taking over as Sharky, and Ciarán Hinds portraying Mr. Lockhart. The production on Broadway receives some positive reviews including such statements as “McPherson is quite possibly the finest playwright of his generation” from Ben Brantley at The New York Times and “Succinct, startling and eerie, and the funniest McPherson play to date” from The Observer. Norton’s performance as Richard Harkin in The Seafarer at the National Theatre wins the 2007 Best Supporting Actor Laurence Olivier Award, and he wins a Tony Award in 2008 for Best Featured Actor in a play.
In 2011 the Royal National Theatre premiers his play The Veil at the Lyttleton Theatre. Described by The Times as “a cracking fireside tale of haunting and decay,” it is set in 1822 and marks McPherson’s first foray into period drama. This vein continues with a striking new translation of August Strindberg‘s The Dance of Death premiering at the Trafalgar Studios in London at the end of 2012. His version is described as “a profoundly seminal work” by The Guardian which also managed, The Times says, to be “shockingly funny.”
The Donmar Warehouse mounts a season of McPherson’s work in 2013 with a revival of The Weir and the world premiere of The Night Alive. The Weir is hailed once again as “a modern classic” by The Daily Telegraph and “a contemporary classic” by The Guardian while The Night Alive is nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play and described as “another triumph” by The Independent on Sunday and “a masterstroke” by Time Out.
The Night Alive transfers to the Atlantic Theatre New York, where it is awarded the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play 2014, and also receives Best Play nominations from the Drama Desk and Lucille Lortell Awards.
McPherson’s play Girl from the North Country, where the dramatic action is broken up by 20 songs by Bob Dylan, opens at London’s The Old Vic on July 26, 2017. The play is set in a hotel in 1934 in Duluth, Minnesota, the birthplace of Dylan. The project begins when Dylan’s office approaches McPherson and suggests creating a play using Dylan songs. The drama receives favorable reviews.
The film of his first screenplay, I Went Down, is critically acclaimed and a great commercial success. His first feature film as a director, Saltwater, wins the CICAE award for Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival. His second feature film is The Actors, which he wrote and directed.
He is the director and co-writer of The Eclipse, a film which has its world premiere at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. It is picked up for distribution by Magnolia Pictures and is released in U.S. cinemas in the spring of 2010. The film subsequently wins the Melies D’Argent Award for Best European Film at the Sitges Film Festival in Spain, the world’s premier horror and fantasy genre festival. At The 2010 Irish Film and television Awards The Eclipse wins the awards for Best Film and Best Screenplay. Ciarán Hinds wins the Best Actor Award at the Tribeca Film Festival for his portrayal of Michael Farr.
In 2013, McPherson writes the last episode of Quirke. In 2020, he co-writes the feature film adaptation of the Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is released digitally worldwide on Disney+ on June 12, 2020.