The novel Circle of Friends was published in 1990 by the Irish icon Maeve Binchy, and was one of her most popular books.

Set in Dublin, as well as in the fictitious town of Knockglen in rural Ireland during the 1950s, the story centres on a group of university students.

The background is the unlikely friendship that blossoms between 10-year-old Bernadette ‘Benny’ Hogan, an overweight, big-hearted only child of a local shop owner, and the orphaned Eve Malone, raised from birth by nuns in a Catholic convent after her late mother’s upper-class Protestant family rejected her.

The friendship endures as they both head off to university in Dublin. Their loyalty is tested by the introduction of more students to their circle, including the dashing rugby player Jack Foley and the beautiful and intelligent social climber, Nan Mahon.

The upcoming Circle of Friends cast.

To everyone’s surprise Benny wins the heart of Jack, but things turn sour when Nan attempts to use Eve’s family connections to her own advantage.

When Nan’s plan to snare Eve’s wealthy cousin Simon Westward goes awry, she is forced into a new plan which breaks Benny’s heart.

A key subplot involves the future of the Hogan family business, thrown into turmoil when Benny’s father dies suddenly. Forced to abandon his plan to marry into the business, the unpleasant Seán Walsh demands a partnership, but Eddie Hogan dies before the contract is signed. Benny reluctantly decides to honour the agreement, but when she looks closely at the accounts, it reveals Seán is not the model employee he portrays.

What perhaps makes this novel a special one in Binchy’s pantheon of work is that she appears to draw very much from her own college experience for both characters and plot. In the person of Benny we can see Binchy herself, and Minnie Driver’s casting as the main character in the film version of Circle of Friends was inspired.

The book and the film each enjoyed global success, and American audiences were enthralled by both. Now we can look forward to the world premiere of the stage version which opens later this month at the Gaiety Theatre.

Time to revisit the themes of happiness, friendship and love, commerce, and small-town Irish mores at the heart of the book.

Beneath the apparent simple questions posed by the book’s, film’s and now play’s storylines lie some deeper puzzles, and Binchy pokes fun at small-town Ireland while revealing some deeper truths lurking beneath the surface.

One review of the book spoke of its storytelling quality and description of ordinary events with “extraordinary straightforwardness and insight”.

The novelist, essayist and screenwriter Susan Isaacs wrote: “There is nothing fancy about Circle of Friends. There is no torrid sex, no profound philosophy. There are no stunning metaphors. There is just a wonderfully absorbing story about people worth caring about.”

Tickets for Circle of Friends are sure to be hot property, and the role of Benny Hogan will be played by Roseanna Purcell, while the other two main female roles of Nan and Eve will be played by Charleigh Bailey and Juliette Crosbie respectively. The part of rugby player Jack Foley will be played by Aron Hegarty.

Directed by Viko Nikci and adapted for stage by Elaine Murphy, Circle Of Friends will run at the Gaiety Theatre from 20 April to 14 May.

Read more

The Front Row: it’s only February, but I’ve seen the performance of the year

The Front Row: James Joyce in colour