Greg McGee has written for theatre, television and film. His first play, Foreskin’s Lament (1980), drew on Rugby culture of the period to comment more broadly on national codes and values. It first toured New Zealand in 1980 and 1981 and happened to coincide with the political and civil upheaval leading up to the 1981 Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand. Between 1991 and 2007 McGee wrote primarily for television. In 2009 his career took an unexpected turn: under the pseudonym Alix Bosco, McGee became the enigmatic crime writer and winner of the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award. He wrote the bestselling biography Richie McCaw: The Open Side in 2012. His latest novel The Antipodeans was published in 2015 by Upstart Press.
FROM THE OXFORD COMPANION TO NEW ZEALAND LITERATURE
McGee, Greg (1950– ), theatre, television and film writer, was born in Oamaru and educated at Waitaki BHS and the University of Otago (LLB 1972). During his university years he also played rugby to the highest level, playing for his university, the province of Otago, the South Island, New Zealand Universities and the Junior All Blacks. He was twice an All Black trialist.
Rugby provided both the setting for his spectacularly successful first play, *Foreskin’s Lament, and the metaphor for a society in which old codes and hypocrisies were anatomised. Professional performances of Foreskin’s Lament around the country in 1980 and 1981 happened to coincide with the political and civil upheaval leading up to the 1981 Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand, and McGee’s humour, savagery and lament for lost innocence made the play provocative and influential far beyond the usual realms of theatre audiences.
His second play, Tooth and Claw (first performed 1983; published 1984) drew on his legal qualifications and background to use a law office as a metaphor for society. He implies that lawyers and others, like rugby players, can ignore the unfortunate and bend the rules when it suits them.
Out in the Cold (first performed 1983; published 1984) was based on his short story published in Islands 27 (1979). A solo mother disguises herself as a man in order to get a job in the freezing works, where she becomes an effective mouthpiece for social and feminist critiques of the male working world. Unlike the earlier plays, ‘Whitemen’ (performed 1988) was a box office failure. In satirical farce, using revue-style caricature and energetic bad taste, Rugby Union administrators were lambasted for their decision to proceed with the 1985 All Black rugby tour of apartheid South Africa. (McGee wrote no further stage plays for a decade after ‘Whitemen’, although a new play called ‘This Train I’m On’ was workshopped in 1997, and is scheduled for production in 1999.)
All McGee’s stage plays are centrally concerned with the loss of collective values and individual altruism in an increasingly materialist and selfish society. Their dramaturgical power relies on vigorous comedy to relax an audience into familiar territory; then bitter paradoxes and social pain emerge to leave the audience uneasy about the society it shares with the characters of the plays. McGee’s liberal protagonists face the same anguished dilemma, since affection for such established structures as the world of rugby, or the law, confounds the social critique. These overtly socio-political concerns have led McGee to television and film writing, intending thereby to reach a wider popular audience. His television writing has won several awards, including Best Drama Writer for his two most significant political documentary dramas: ‘Erebus: The Aftermath’ (1987), which examined the judicial inquiry into the Mt Erebus air crash, and ‘Fallout’ (1994), a dramatisation (with Tom Scott) of the ANZUS anti-nuclear row with the US and its political implications for the Labour government of David Lange. ‘Free Enterprise’ (1982) was a drama; and McGee has written for a number of series, including Roche, Marlin Bay, and Cover Story. He also writes for film, notably the award-winning Old Scores (1991), co-scripted with Dean Parker.
Greg McGee continued writing for screen, co-writing Old Scores alongside Dean Parker in 1991; Via Satellite, alongside director Anthony McCarten in 1998; and Crooked Earth with Waihoroi Shortland in 2001.
McGee also wrote for television. In response to a call by TV One for a local drama 'saga' he created Greenstone in 1999. Between 2000 and 2005 McGee worked closely on the ‘8.30 flagship drama’ Street Legal. From the time of its release, he developed, story-edited, and wrote or co-wrote most of its 51 episodes. The show has received a host of awards, including the 2003 NZ TV Award for best drama series.
In 2003, McGee wrote a television feature titled Skin and Bone, an updated take on his 1970’s classic play Foreskin’s Lament. Skin and Bone was written to reflect the changing social and sporting contexts, retelling the story of Foreskin as Seymour, a player pursuing a faltering professional rugby career, who returns to his hometown to play a final and morally upheaving game for his rural club side.
In 2008 McGee released his book Tall Tales (Some True): memoirs of an unlikely writer, the ‘unabashedly subjective’ account of its author’s journey from rebellious rugby player to unlikely writer.
He returned to playwriting with Me & Robert McKee, first staged at Circa Theatre, Wellington, in 2010. The play centres on script writer, Billy, as he lectures his audience of would-be script writers. John Smythe says of the play, “It’s a wonderfully elusive beast, Greg McGee’s Me & Robert McKee. The minute you attempt to describe it, you know it’s really about something else. It’s as intriguing, attractive and slippery as that brilliant idea artists are forever attempting to capture and trap”. Me & Robert McKee won an award for Best Stage Play at Moondance Festival 2009, and was runner-up in Playmarket's Adam New Zealand Play Award 2010.
In 2009 McGee released his first crime novel, Cut and Run, under the nom-de-plum Alix Bosco. Written from the perspective of female investigator, Anna Markunas, McGee feared undermining the credibility of her voice by publishing under his own name. For this reason he opted for the gender-neutral pseudonym Alix Bosco. Cut and Run went on to win the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel in 2010. The same year, Alix Bosco released the follow-up Slaughter Falls, which was a finalist in the 2011 Ngaio Marsh Awards. McGee revealed Bosco’s true identity just before the award’s announcement.
His first novel published under his own name was Love and Money (2012), set in 1987. It combined real and fictional events and characters, in a similar vein as his next novel, The Antipodeans, but was a much more comedic take on an outrageous era. The story was centred on the efforts of a failing actor to hold together his much blended family in the face of the monetarist revolution.
McGee’s most recent novelistic undertaking, The Antipodeans, was released in July 2015. Beginning with the return to Venice of an old man determined to confront his past, The Antipodeans spans three generations of a New Zealand family and their interaction with three families of Northern Italy. The novel was long-listed in the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for fiction.
MEDIA LINKS AND CLIPS
- Greg McGee's Wikipedia article
- Greg McGee's Playmarket profile
- Author page for Greg McGee at Upstart Press
- Author page for Greg McGee at Penguin Books
- Author page for Alix Bosco at Penguin Books
- Biography of Greg McGee at NZ On Screen
- Twelve questions with Greg McGee in the Sunday Star Times
- Twelve questions with Greg McGee in the NZ Herald
- Talking Books podcast: second novels
- Inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award in the Listener
- Interview with Greg McGee in the Sunday Star Times
- Interview with Greg McGee about Love and Money on RadioNZ
- Review of The Antipodeans in the NZ Herald
- Interview with Greg McGee about The Antipodeans on RadioNZ
- Greg McGee answers the Mansfield Questionnaire on Booknotes Unbound
- Article on Kiwi crime writing on World Literature Today
Updated January 2017.