Doing justice to Maeve Binchy’s final novel

Despite subject matter that includes cancer and alcoholism, this stage adaptation will leave you smiling, writes Colette Sheridan

Doing justice to Maeve Binchy’s final novel

DRUNKEN weekend leading to pregnancy, as well as cancer and alcoholism, are just some of the themes in the late Maeve Binchy’s final novel, Minding Frankie, which has been adapted for the stage. It may sound like a recipe for a distinctly depressing play but the story has Binchy’s trademark humanity, wisdom and humour.

This “heartbreaking” drama is about Noel Lynch (Steve Blount) who is struggling with alcoholism when he gets a call from the terminally ill Stella (who dies within five minutes of the play). She claims to be carrying his child. A baby girl named Frankie is born. Noel must raise her but social worker, Moira Tierney (Clare Barrett) thinks the child would be better off with foster parents, given Noel’s drink problem.

Part of the play’s appeal is its feelgood ending, according to director Peter Sheridan. “It just makes you smile from ear to ear,” says Sheridan. He says that the novel “is the baby that Maeve left to her husband, Gordon Snell. They had no children of their own. Maeve entrusted Gordon to mind this baby. The book was published within months of her death.”

Sheridan, working on a stage adaptation by Shay Linehan, says that in keeping with Binchy’s work, the story is turned on its head. “The guy with the alcohol problem actually turns out to be heroic, becoming the ‘mother’ to the child.” But there is a question mark as to the paternity of the child.

“This is handled brilliantly by Maeve. It’s one of the great plot developments in the story. Essentially, the story is a big conflict between the two characters over who is going to mind this baby.”

The play started off as a one-man show at the Dalkey Arts Festival adapted by Linehan, a friend of Gordon Snell, a few years ago. It was seen by producer, Breda Cashe. She thought it had great potential but felt it needed at least two characters. Linehan rewrote it. Cashe sent it to Sheridan who loved it.

It is, says Sheridan, a departure from his usual work. “I’m generally much more into social realism. I’ve done things like The Shawshank Redemption; very edgy, very male and very violent stuff. But I loved Minding Frankie on first reading it and I always base what I do on my initial reaction. It just so happens that Maeve Binchy as a storyteller had a wonderful sense of plot development.

“Her stories go down avenues you don’t expect. Her characters are richly drawn so she’s an absolutely wonderful resource for plays. I’m just amazed that more of her books haven’t been made into plays.”

Sheridan says there’s a snobbishness around what used to be called ‘chick lit’.

“When women writers started to really emerge in the ’60s and ’70s, Maeve was one of the primary writers. She was the first person to lead the charge of a whole new wave of female writers.

“Of course, there was a lot of looking down your nose at the work, saying these books for women are kind of Mills & Boon. That’s just nonsense now. Some of the best writers in the world are women. That kind of snob value still persists among a certain type of reader and academics. Unless you’re writing like John Banville or some other stylist, you’re not the real thing. But that’s absolutely not true.”

A brother of film director, Jim Sheridan, Peter has written a book about growing up on Dublin’s Sheriff Street. “Jim is always on about doing a movie of the book. It’s about trying to find the space in which to do it. I’m doing a version of it at Listowel Writers’ Week, called Made in Dublin.”

Hopefully we’ll see the brothers combining on what could be a great project.

  • Minding Frankie is at the Everyman, Cork, from Tuesday to Saturday

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