Playing out on stage

The best of Frank McGuinness

Monologue: Leanne Best as Sal in The Match Box, from 2012, which Frank McGuinness wrote for Liverpool Playhouse

Monologue: Leanne Best as Sal in The Match Box, from 2012, which Frank McGuinness wrote for Liverpool Playhouse


The Factory Girls: The play that put McGuinness on the map, back in 1982. Taking its inspiration from the writer’s mother, who worked in a shirt factory, it told the (still relevant) story of five Donegal women who respond to threatened redundancy by staging a lock-in. It was also the first of the playwright’s many collaborations with the director Patrick Mason.

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme: The tale of eight soldiers from the 36th Ulster Division in the run-up to the bloody 1916 battle, this bravura 1985 drama sealed McGuinness’s reputation. Premiered at the height of the Troubles, it transcended the writer’s Catholic background to produce a vivid and sympathetic portrait of loyalist identity and male companionship, with the play featuring a gay character as narrator.

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me: This 1992 drama explored, once again, how men bond in extreme circumstances, but in more confined quarters. Based on the experiences of Beirut kidnap victims, the play followed an Irishman, an Englishman and an American coping by overcoming their differences and indulging in absurd fantasies. Commercially and critically successful, the play and Stephen Rea’s original performance earned Tony nominations during its Broadway run.

A Doll’s House: McGuinness has long been a prolific translator of classic dramatists, from Chekhov to Bertolt Brecht and, most notably, Henrik Ibsen: he has adapted all the Norwegian master’s major plays. Among these, his version of A Doll’s House was perhaps the most fruitful, winning four Tony Awards in 1997, including best revival.

The Match Box: Original work by McGuinness has been relatively scarce on the Irish stage in recent years; this 2012 monologue (left) for Liverpool Playhouse showed his dramatic gifts are undiminished. A bereaved young woman tells how she has returned to her Irish roots in the wake of her daughter’s death. The writer’s love of Greek tragedy is evident in the play’s morally ambiguous bloodletting, as well as in its searing portrayal of grief.

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