Shaun Dunne’s new play ‘Restoration’ is a shining example of Irish realism in theatre done right.
At the beginning of the play, the audience learn that youth center worker Dean (John Cronin) had been viciously assaulted by Paul (Callan Cummins), a user of the facility, a few weeks prior.
As a firm believer in ‘restorative practice’, Leanne (Kate Stanley Brennan), Head of the Facility, encourages both parties to come together in order to resolve their issues through open conversation and honesty. Aware of Paul’s previous criminal record and trouble-making family, she knows any negative attention that could be brought onto him or the facility could result in disastrous consequences.
However, things become tangled when Paul’s brother Tony (Barry John O’Connor) gets thrown into the mix. Tony, who is insistent that Paul skip the meeting and join him at a protest outside the local police station has become a thorn in the paw of Leanne’s plan to restore peace. It only worsens when Dean threatens to report Paul to the police.
From the hard-hitting dialogue that is grounded in reality, to the stylised scene transitions, which adds striking theatricality, the play successfully holds up a microscope to a working-class community in Dublin.
A discussion between Dean and Leanne (Kate Stanley Brennan) explores what it means to be work towards social justice. Dean’s good intentions of helping troubled youths in the center are instantly abandoned the moment things get a little rough for him. He immediately resolves himself to the notion that Paul must answer for his crime, despite having in the past championed the rights for troubled teens to get a second chance. Yet, her desire to keep things afloat through shallow therapy sessions also falls flat and fails to acknowledge the real pain that lies beneath the surface of the characters.
It is expertly written and forces the audience to consider how their own intentions feed into how good their actions really are.
One of the standout performances is delivered by Shauna Higgins, who plays Nicole, a student on work placement. Higgins delivery lands in all the right places, whether it be a comedic or emotional scene. It never felt like she was performing a character but truly emulating a real person. Her subtle blend of headstrong youthfulness and naive optimism adds a refreshing breather for the audience in an otherwise intense watch.
‘Restoration’ is a play that achieves a lot with very little. Its direction and writing skillfully covers broad themes in a concise narrative that both shocks and hooks in its audience.
Review by Kevin Worrall