Una comes to life in show marked by integrity and attention to detail

Yvette Picque and Máire Daly as the younger and older Una Taaffe.
Yvette Picque and Máire Daly as the younger and older Una Taaffe.

REVIEW – Are You There Una? – Mick Lally Theatre

How someone’s life is perceived and valued are among the issues raised in Are You There Una?, written and directed by Elaine Mears, which premiered during Galway Theatre Festival.

The beautifully executed work, full of heart and integrity, is based on life of Una Taaffe, who was familiar to generations of Galwegians, latterly as an eccentric elderly woman, surrounded by dogs in her William Street drapery shop. A shop which, to put it mildly, smelt badly.

For most of us, that was Una. Part of Galway. There, until one day she wasn’t.

Elaine Mears, however, had been fascinated by Una since a childhood visit to the shop. She wanted to know more about how her life had unfolded until she became a semi-outcast, summonsed to court because her dogs bit passers-by, someone who was notorious for her badly-applied, vivid red lipstick and whose business, home and life were crumbling around her.

The drama Elaine created from her extensive research gives new life and complexity to a woman who died in 2006, having disappeared from Galway some years previously – Una was initially confined to a psychiatric hospital before living out her days in a nursing home where she was happy.

Elaine spoke to surviving family members and older Galwegians who remembered when the Taaffes were among the city’s elite, with a tennis court in their back garden. Drawing from these stories and from photographs she sourced, as well as voice-overs and recordings, she has written and directed an atmospheric drama that captures various triumphs and tragedies of Una and her family.

The older Una is brought to life by Máire Daly, while her younger incarnation is performed by Yvette Picque. The skilful interplay between them makes for a multi-dimensional character whose once-rich life was slowly eroded. The real-life Una is presented too, courtesy of an interview, recorded in 1999.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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