For more than 25 years, Marjorie Bates Murphy served as The Stage’s North West correspondent, contributing always insightful reviews from her first in 1977 (Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions) until her last in 2005 (Simon Block’s comedy-thriller Chimps) – both regional premieres and both, appropriately enough, at the Playhouse in her native Liverpool.
With an acute eye for spotting new talent and a generosity of spirit, she documented the highs and lows of theatrical life in a city undergoing profound economic and social change during the period she was writing.
Bates Murphy’s reputation in the region and wider afield was underpinned by her enthusiasm and commitment to the theatre, her willingness to argue for maintaining standards and readiness to criticise when she found fault. When provoked (usually when she felt the audience was not getting its money’s worth), she could pack a punch that was felt on the page, memorably taking against Ron Hutchinson’s Eejit as “largely plotless, gratuitous filth with not one redeeming spark of amusement or wit”.
She applied the same protective standards to the classics and new work as to pantomime. Conscious of its peculiar standing with seasonal audiences more familiar with television, she argued in a review of a 1979 Jack in the Beanstalk that it should be “the very best of entertainment, inventiveness and sophistication [and] this production is singularly lacking in all three”. Letters (for and against) duly arrived in The Stage’s mailbag.
As witness to the emergence of Willy Russell, Bates Murphy championed the Liverpool Everyman premieres of Our Day Out (1983) and Shirley Valentine (1986), a production, she wrote, “that dares you to take an eye off it for a second and let slip a treat”.
She also wrote for Plays and Players magazine and was a primary school teacher until retiring in 1993.
Marjorie Bates Murphy was born on November 1, 1934 and died on December 31, 2019, aged 85. She is survived by her husband, Gerard.