- Chris O'Rourke
One Good Turn
Aoibhéann McCann, Catherine Byrne, Shane O’Reilly, Liz FitzGibbon and Bosco Hogan in Una McKevitt’s One Good Turn. Image: Ros Kavanagh
Meet the McKennas. Mam, Brenda, martyred with children and a sick husband, sees all around her revert to childlike incapacity, with both daughters notching up their sibling acrimony tenfold now they've moved back home. Fiona, who gave up her job to find herself, seems to have mislaid herself in her bedroom given the inordinate amount of time she spends there. Aoife, a repeat offending parasite, gave up the perfect boyfriend in London simply because he was perfect. Yet compared to their dissatisfied Dad, Frank, these tarnished golden girls are amateurs when it comes to a self-centred, lack of consideration for others. Displaying the personality of an entitled wasp, Frank is miserable with emphysema, needing daily care which he doesn't take any responsibility for. In Una McKevitt's dark comedy, One Good Turn, caring is an onerous duty to be undertaken under duress, for fear of great personal cost and a lack of gratitude, and is to be avoided whenever possible. In which warring family members writhe on their crosses competing for the title of greatest put upon, all the while journeying down a road to nowhere.
Liz FitzGibbon and Aoibhéann McCann in Una McKevitt’s One Good Turn. Image: Ros Kavanagh
If One Good Turn hopes to generate sympathy and understanding for caring, it sadly misfires. With eternal pettiness, Frank, a worryingly convincing Bosco Hogan, could single-handedly advance the cause for involuntary euthanasia, never mind voluntary. Two minutes spent in his insufferable company and the legislation would be hurried through immediately, and you'd be happy to kill him yourself. Home help Helen, an underused Pom Boyd, and sensitive neighbour Ciaran, an equally sensitive Shane O'Reilly, don't so much show you how caring is done as remind you its easier to care when you can walk away at the end of your shift, or whenever you choose to. The reality of care etched deep in Catherine Byrne's high octane Brenda, a woman so frayed she has to exaggerate every movement just to keep herself moving forward. Even when she tries take a break from caring she ends up caring for someone else. Because if she stops…
If comedy needs laughter to give it energy, One Good Turn faces an uphill struggle in an auditorium working to a tenth of its capacity. Something director Emma Jordan doesn't always get to grips with, shifting between understated and overstated with comic timing not always being sharp. And with McKevitt's writing not always comedically robust enough. Even its wonderful No Limits moment take place mostly off stage, like its shy and embarrassed about it. Still, when its funny, One Good Turn is very funny. Yet its darker underbelly, captured in the clever title and the death of a neighbour, underscore where most caring ends, including that of Frank. Yet such themes are understated for the most part, as if uncomfortable talking about them. Luckily One Good Turn has two naturals in the irrepressible Liz Fitzgibbon and the inimitable Aoibhéann McCann who sizzle as selfish sisters, finding that balance between comedy and drama. Shane O'Reilly is no slouch either, usually for having most of the funniest lines. Even grumpy old Hogan gets in a few good comedic shots alongside moments of connection, lightening this world of normalised misery.
Liz FitzGibbon and Bosco Hogan in Una McKevitt’s One Good Turn. Image: Ros Kavanagh
If One Good Turn signals a departure for McKevitt, it's not an entirely successful one. Her documentary style works, like the adorable Singlehood, looking far more confident than her attempt at a kitchen sink drama. One resembling an episode of a classic American sit com with its grumpy Dad, martyred Mum, and selfish siblings. Or the first half of a Neil Simon play for which the second half never got written. Not ending so much as running out of steam in the middle of nowhere with nothing resolved. Like it had somewhere it wanted to go, lost the map, but decided to keep going till it used up its half tank of petrol. That said, there's a lot of heart and humour here, and it was a perfect night. The Abbey's reopening a tonic for the soul.
One Good Turn, by Una McKevitt, was streamed live from the Abbey Theatre on June 25 and 26, having been available in person from June 21. It is available on demand till July 10.
For more information visit The Abbey Theatre.