Stronger: A sensitive exploration of restorative justice

Dublin Theatre Festival: Geoff Power’s play delves into the psychology of victimhood and the circumstances that create criminals

STRONGER 

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
★★★☆☆
Geoff Power's worthy play sensitively explores restorative justice, the process through which victims of crime are given the opportunity to meet the perpetrators. The goal is to respond to the needs of both victim and perpetrator in moving forward with their lives. Power's play attempts a similar act of empathic communication in its own right, allowing audiences to reflect on the practices themselves, to understand better the psychology of victimhood and the complex circumstances that create criminals.

Jan (Mary Murray) is an open-hearted art teacher, determined to do good for her troubled students, to provide learning opportunities and encouragement for them when others have written them off. Damon (Scott Graham) is her star pupil, a talented draughtsman with a childish charm, although, significantly, he has just turned 18.

Jan's husband, Rob, is worried Jan is being a bit too soft on the boy, but he only knows half of the story. When Damon rapes her one day after school, Jan finds her marital relationship becoming even more fraught

Jan’s husband, Rob (Marcus Lamb), is worried Jan is being a bit too soft on the boy, but he only knows half of the story. When Damon rapes her one day after school, Jan finds her marital relationship becoming even more fraught. Despite Rob’s disapproval, Jan wants to see Damon, to let him see what he has done to her, but also how strong she is: that she is “a person in command of my own life”. Jan also wants to see that he is okay.

Despite fine performances from the ensemble cast, which includes Fionntán Larney and Jennifer O’Dea in multiple roles, Power’s play serves the social story rather than a broader theatrical impetus. Director Paul Meade attempts to bring a metaphorical layer to the action by placing Jan as silent witness to various scenes. However, this is only partially successful as a theatrical device, making entrance and exits tricky on occasion, as well as confusing the sense of time and space.

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Still, visual design from John Galvin and sound design by Michael Stapleton help to raise the dramatic stakes considerably, providing a visual representation of the "swirls of colour" that Jan sees shining in her disturbed students and a cinematic thrust towards the inevitable meeting that concludes this socially illuminating play. Gúna Nua theatre company is hosting a webinar on restorative justice on Thursday, October 7th, to provide further discussion of the issue.

Runs at Smock Alley until Saturday, October 9th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival