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Posted 18 May 2010

Frank McGuinness: Honoured by Irish University Review and nominated for BAFTA

Nominated for a BAFTA for his BBC television drama, A Short Stay in Switzerland (starring Julie Walters), Frank McGuinness has once again demonstrated his virtuosity as a playwright.

Now, in a special issue of the Irish University Review, dedicated to the work of McGuinness, who is Professor of Creative Writing at the UCD School of English, Drama and Film, and marking the 40th anniversary of the publication, writes openly and candidly about his work over the past decade.

As a student at UCD in the early 1970s, McGuinness was profoundly moved by an Abbey Theatre production of Yeats’s Oedipus. Nearly 30 years later, in 2008, he was asked to write a version for the National Theatre, London, starring Ralph Fiennes. “This was the stage play I was working on when I returned to writing for television, a film called A Short Stay in Switzerland, and the two tasks are, I believe, linked.

[Oedipus] removes himself from the city to lead a living death as exile and outcast. Stripped down to next to nothing, Oedipus does the inconceivable. Against all odds he acquires a little control over his wasted life, and that control lets him live.

That is precisely the opposite decision made by Dr Anne Turner in A Short Stay in Switzerland. She took what control she had left over her existence and ended it. The plague of incurable disease that had killed her husband Jack now had spread in a different form to herself… Anne Turner chose to make the journey with her three children to Zurich where she could receive the means to assist her suicide. Parallels were drawn between her moral dilemma and the ethical battle fought in so may of Ibsen’s plays, but I felt this was a story more in touch with the barbarous fate explored in Greek theatre.”

Frank McGuinness, playwright, poet, lecturer, Donegal man: whose creative stimuli transcend his cultural background. He himself admits to seeking out influences beyond the traditional Irish boundaries of politics, religion and sex. And, commenting on how much he enjoys adapting texts by Ibsen, Chekhov, Sophocles, Brecht and Stringberg, he writes, “I use the classics of European theatre to help me avoid the one quality that is anathema to my interest in any author. That quality is repetition and it must be rejected with as much force as is humanly or inhumanly possible.

I have never endorsed purity, and would scorn a craze for chastity, so I like to think with these European authors I engage in scarifying, exhilarating and fertile bouts of breeding strange creatures that populate my stage.”

Heaping the richness of theatre from the Greeks, through the Renaissance into the contemporary, Frank McGuinness’ theatre work spans the acclaimed Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Carthaginians, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, and most recently Greta Garbo Came to Donegal.

Edited by John Brannigan, with contributions by Patrick Mason, Anthony Roche, Anne Fogarty, Hiroko Mikami, John Cregan and Eamonn Jordan among others, this special issue of the Irish University Review (Spring/Summer 2010) gathers together a critical appreciation of some of the many highlights of McGuinness’ career by established scholars of contemporary Irish drama and poetry.

The Irish University Review, dedicated to the work of McGuinness, can be purchased by contacting Kate Bateman at

The Irish University Review was established in 1970 by Professor Maurice Harmon, now Emeritus Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama at UCD. Since that first issue, it has become one of the leading journals of Irish literary and cultural criticism. Joining the current editor, Dr John Brannigan and Maurice Harmon to launch the special edition were former editors Professors Christopher Murray, Anthony Roche and Anne Fogarty.

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, BAFTA awards will be presented on 6th June 2010.


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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Frank McGuinness: Honoured by Irish University Review and nominated for BAFTA
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