Frank McGuinness



  • (1953 - ) Irish playwright. Born into a hard-up family in a remote part of Co. Donegal, McGuinness earned a place at University College, Dublin and thereafter followed an academic career. In 1981 he applied to join a course on playwriting that required him to have a finished script: when he was unexpectedly accepted, he was obliged to write The Factory Girls in five days flat. The play, which is based on his mother's experiences working in a shirt factory, was staged by the Abbey Theatre in 1982. Three years later the Abbey produced the play that would make his name, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (1985). This groundbreaking work uses the experiences of eight Protestant volunteers to highlight the role played by the Ulster Regiment in World War I - an episode more or less expunged from nationalist versions of Irish history. The play was also one of the first Irish dramas to deal openly with homosexuality. Gay relationships are also at the core of Innocence (1986), a play about the painter Caravaggio that provoked noisy walkouts when it was seen at Dublin's Gate Theatre, and Gates of Gold (2002), which was based on the long love affair between the two founders of that theater (Hilton Edwards and Michael MacLiammoir).

    In the 1990s McGuinness enjoyed his greatest commercial success with Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, a tragicomedy about three Westerners - an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Black American - who are held hostage by Arab captors in Lebanon. The play, which was inspired by conversations with the former hostage Brian Keenan, opened at the Hampstead Theatre in 1991 before transferring to the West End and subsequently to Broadway, where it ran for over five years (1992 - 97). More recent plays have included Mutabilitie (1997), which imagines a meeting between Shakespeare and the poet Spenser in 16th-century Ireland, Dolly West's Kitchen (1999), a Chekhovian piece set in McGuinness's home town during World War II, Speaking Like Magpies (2005), and Greta Garbo Came to Donegal (2010). McGuinness is also noted as a translator of works by other playwrights, notably Ibsen, Chekhov, Brecht, and Euripides.

    In the Irish theater I am looked on as an old fellow. But I'm still a bad bollocks, you know; I'm not entirely respectable. I still have the flaming red hair.
    Frank McGuinness