The life of Una Taaffe and a young man's struggle with MS

Galway Theatre Festival Reviews: Invisible (Conor Geoghegan, Westworks) Una (Elaine Mears)

Una Taaffe.

Una Taaffe.

TWO LOCALLY-devised works in progress proved big hits with Tuesday’s Galway Theatre Festival audiences - Conor Geoghegan’s Invisible at Nuns Island and Elaine Mears’ Una at the Mick Lally Theatre. Both are already strong pieces of theatre and certainly whetted the appetite to see them in their finished forms.

Geoghegan’s play, which he both wrote and performed, was presented by Westworks Theatre and finely directed by Kieron Smith. Invisible relates how, aged 15, he was diagnosed with MS and how he has lived with the condition. At the start of the show, he enters clad only in boxers, and walks with ungainly gait to a chair where he dresses awkwardly, hampered by only having the use of one arm. Straightaway he thus vividly illustrates the kind of physical difficulties MS sufferers can be faced with.

With equal vividness he evokes the emotional impact of the disease and how it generates feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, frustration and anger. He takes us through encounters with doctors and healers, friends and family, and the many ups and downs of learning to live with MS. While Geoghegan shares factual information about MS throughout the show it never becomes a dry recitation of data but is theatrically dynamic from first to last. He dramatically recreates an incident where he nearly drowned kayaking and then observes how the experience of having MS was also a type of drowning, a loss of his healthy self.

The show is full of movement and action and constantly offers keen insights and moving reflections on illness and wellbeing. It is also frequently leavened by bright shards of humour. I should perhaps declare that Conor is a first cousin of mine, but nepotism has no bearing on me saying Invisible is a compelling and illuminating drama.

una taffee play

Elaine Mears’ Una explores the life of one Galway’s legendary figures Una Taaffe. The show offers a multi-faceted, richly imagined and deeply humane portrait of a remarkable woman. The show draws on photographs, video, voice recordings (including one tape of Una herself ), anecdotes and memories to portray a life that was eventful, glamorous, and, in its latter years desperately sad.

There is the poignant story of how her funeral attracted only five or six mourners, and yet among them was a woman who had travelled all the way from Wicklow for the occasion in appreciation of the kindness Una had shown her family years earlier when they were in financial difficulty. Una’s many acts of kindness are a recurrent motif of the play and it is good to be reminded of them to counter the more superficial image of her as an elderly eccentric attended by her motly pack of dogs. Jennifer Cunningham contributes brilliant videography to the production, which included atmospheric footage of Galway streets, the decaying shell of Taaffe’s premises, lingering over the flaking textures and colours of weather-worn and exposed walls.

There are also fine performances from the two show’s two actors, Yvette Picque and Máire Daly – the show begins with a wonderful tableau of Daly perfectly recreating the famous image of Una resting on her elbow surveying the world. Kudos to the contributions of composer John Henry, costume designer Marie Murray, lighting designer Susan Collins, and especially to Elaine Mears who researched, scripted, and directed the production.

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