Maeve Binchy's play Aches and Pains on stage

Irish novelist Maeve Binchy's hilarious guide to the trials and tribulations of hospitals and convalescence is brought to life in a new stage play. Jenny Lee finds out more from Aches and Pains director Margaret Dunne

Michael Heavey and Margaret Toomey in the stage play of Maeve's Binchy's Aches and Pains

WHEN the late Maeve Binchy went into hospital for a hip replacement some years ago, what did she do? Play the martyr? Complain and wait to get better?

No, she penned a book offering hilarious advice on preparing, enduring and convalescing after surgery. Published in 1999, the feel-good work mixed humour, common sense and anecdotes including advice on topics such as baring your body, wearing elastic stockings, motivating the patient in the next bed, giving up drink and being the perfect hospital visitor.

The writer, who died in 2012, is best known for her sympathetic and often humorous portrayal of small-town life in Ireland. Having lived since the age of 12 in Dalkey, south of Dublin, Binchy and her husband Gordon Snell were supportive of the setting up of the Heritage Centre and Writers' Gallery in the village.

The centre, which celebrates the work of more than 40 writers and creative artists, from Joyce and Beckett to Bono and Binchy, have responded to the demand for Binchy's work to be remembered by creating a literary walk in Dalkey as well as adapting her work for the stage.

"Part of my role here is to bring the literary heritage alive," says Margaret Dunne, the manager of Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre who commissioned and directs the stage adaptation of Binchy's Aches and Pains.

"We find here in the heritage centre that more people come in and ask about Maeve Binchy than ask about James Joyce – other than around Bloomsday on June 16. There is definitely a need, a want and an opportunity for more things to be done to celebrate Maeve Binchy."

Shay Linehan of Deilg Inis Theatre Co adapted Binchy's novel Minding Frankie in 2013 and was delighted to work on Aches and Pains, because it contains Binchy's own voice. His stage adaptation, featuring actors Michael Heavey and Margaret Toomey, is set in a recuperation ward where two post-operative hippies, Ann and Stan, try to figure out the best way to tackle life, armed only with a plastic hip and a positive attitude.

The production makes it's Northern Ireland debut this month as part of the 25th Aspects Literary Festival in Bangor, Co Down.

"It's all her sentiments and words but Shay has adapted it by using the vehicle of two characters. The character Stan, the man whose unfortunately or fortunately stuck in the ward with her, is taken from the last chapter Maeve wrote in the novel. She drives him bananas and in the end he mellows slightly."

Binchy's family have been involved: "We are very close to her family and Gordon has given talks after the show," Margaret says. "They confirm that all these things in her book actually happened. Gordon is just so delighted that her work is being kept alive in another format."

Scenes are sure to leave audiences sore from laughing, not least one discussing Ann's visit to a nudist colony.

"Maeve actually did visit a nudist colony for an article she was writing. It's hilarious as she describes being dropped off the bus and people with their dangly bits sitting on plastic chairs as they eat soup," Margaret says.

"The play also amusingly tells how she had an evening with wine once a week, instead of an evening with wine every evening. Then you have all her entertaining stories of her times trying to lose weight in order to have the hip operation and eating only Ryvita and carrots for six months."

Binchy's novels sold more than 40 million copies and were translated into 37 languages – a display of which is contained in Dalkey Library. Why does Margaret feel she was so popular all over the world?

"She seemed to be able to write as people speak. They are human-interest stories and they are always uplifting. That's not to say you don't have abortions, murders and things that happen in the human condition within it. All human life is there."

:: Aches and Pains is performed at The Space, SERC, Bangor on September 23 as part of the Aspects Irish Literature Festival.

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