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February 22, 2022

Una McKevitt on Writing One Good Turn


Una McKevitt is a writer and director whose play One Good Turn premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in summer 2021. We caught up with Una about her play and the inspiration behind it, how she approached writing naturalistic dialogue, and tips for theatremakers looking to stage the show in future.

One Good Turn shares an insight into the dynamics of a family as they care for their seriously ill father. What inspired you to tell this story?
I read an interview with the playwright Florian Zeller recently who said, ‘When we write we always try to compensate for things’ and I can relate to that. When my father died after a long decline, alongside the grief, there was time to reflect on when I was useful and when I was not. I began One Good Turn looking to interrogate the feelings that came along with that reflection. What surprised me, as I made my way through the play, was how writing it broadened my perspective on the whole experience. Instead of being bogged down on the last few weeks of his life I was able to look back over the course of the four to five years that my mother had cared for him at home and we had (kind of) helped. As I wrote, I hoped, being a fairly widespread experience, that my somewhat unsentimental approach and attempt to be honest about the experience would resonate with other people in the same boat.

The play offers a day-in-the-life snapshot. What was your decision behind keeping the timeline to just a single day?
I think I will experiment with time more in the future but I liked the idea of using the day as a snapshot of a family trying to manage. The audience know what the ultimate ending is, the father is nearing the end of his life, however, neither him nor the family know when this will be. So every day is just a bit more time running out and that’s the central anxiety they’re all labouring under, especially the characters of the father and mother.

More broadly, your writing often draws on fact and real-life stories. Did your creative process for One Good Turn involve research into the practicalities of caring for someone with a long-term illness?
I didn’t do a whole lot of research outside of my own experience on the subject matter as I wanted it to be a little naïve in some ways.

I know research was done by the director and cast in terms of how emphysema, which the father character has, operates and presents itself. And the stage management team had to do quite a lot of research in terms of the medical props.

What techniques or approaches do you find helpful when creating naturalistic dialogue?
Coming from a documentary background, I’ve always been more interested in everyday naturalistic speech and rhythms than a more literary style. For me, the centre of any production is the performances and the intention of the work rather than the text. Saying that there is one scene in the text that pushes naturalistic rhythm in a way that makes saying it naturalistically quite challenging (if that makes sense!). I’m interested in exploring that a little bit more.

For all of its emotional intensity and insight into challenging themes of illness and responsibility and the meaning of care, One Good Turn is also, at heart, a comedy. What do you hope that audiences will take from seeing the show?
I do hope it gives people a little bit of light relief, especially anyone who is caring or has cared for someone in the home and, of course, for anyone being cared for. I hope its honesty and at times dark humour is understood as trying to eschew sentimentality in favour of leaving the emotional complexity of the situation open to each audience member’s own reading.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to stage your play in the future?
Sure! I guess I’d advise not to try and find too many answers in it, to play it neither for laughs or for tears, just play it in a way that allows what’s not being said to have a little room to land. I have a note in the foreword saying that this is not a play about a terminal diagnosis and that is a key thing not to get bogged down on. While death is a character in the play, everyone’s hiding from it. Oh and give me a shout, I’ve some edits!

The script for One Good Turn is now available to buy. Register your interest to perform the play in future.