Fiona Coyne

Many South Africans might not know it, but The Weakest Link host Fiona Coyne – who tragically committed suicide last month – received international acclaim for writing a ‘gay’ play, despite her being heterosexual. Brian Merriman, Director of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, where her play was nominated for two awards, writes about Coyne and her foray into the lesbian world.

Fiona Coyne epitomised what we try to achieve with the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, established in 2004. It is an artistic event not just for the gay community or the arts community but for our entire society; mainstreaming gay life through theatre as an art form in seven venues in the Dublin City Centre each year.

Fiona’s interest in our work for the positive gay identity, was brought to our attention when a script was submitted for the 2009 programme by Cape Town’s Artscape New Writing Programme. It was about an ageing famous actress, wonderfully played by Diane Wilson, who has run out of leading parts and now is finally willing to ‘broaden her horizons’.

Fiona’s play Careful tells the story of the plight of the straight and stuffy actress who is now willing to ‘play gay’ if it will re-start her own stage career. In the lively script, the actress has heard of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival and badgers a colleague to write her a role even though she is straight.

The role of a lesbian schoolteacher is written – and here Fiona excelled in capturing comedy, feminism and sexuality in a richly layered and textured script – and now it must be played for real. The next dilemma is how to ‘play lesbian’.

Our heroine calls the only lesbian she knew and a great punchy, funny, cutting and dramatic duologue ensures to produce Fiona Coyne’s masterful Careful where the two women of opposite sexual orientation realise just how much in common they share as professionals in a male dominated world.

Deirdre Wolhuter and Diane Wilson in Careful

Diane Wilson and Deirdre Wolhuter starred in this well received and important play in 2009 at the festival. Diane won Best Actress and Fiona was the only female playwright nominated that year for Best new writing in the prestigious multi-national event which runs for 16 nights at the beginning of May each year.

Careful’s review is on Of all pieces in the festival the Artistic Director selected Diane’s hilarious opening monologue as his guest spot in Gala Night Awards ceremony – a tribute to writer and artist.

Fiona Coyne’s considerable writing skill is a rarity when trying to get plays about women, by women, that deal with the lives of gay women. For Fiona to be ‘inspired’ by our work in Ireland was thrilling, for her to write it so well and to travel with the production was a highlight.

Careful is the first play to discuss the festival, and the characterisation of the two women was first class. Fiona now has a fan base in Ireland, dedicated to promoting the positive gay identity through theatre as an art form; one that remembers her great contribution with affection and still feels her loss.

Fiona Coyne committed suicide on 18 August 2010 at the age of 45 at her Cape Town home. Born in Springs, the actress, presenter, communications consultant, writer and environmental activist is best known as the host of the South African version of The Weakest Link. She is survived by her mother and two brothers.

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