The best play to see in Ireland this week
Shaun Dunne’s new play Restoration examines the tensions embedded in social work
Restoration, directed by Darren Thornton with Kate Stanley Brennan and John Cronin. Project Arts Centre, January 28th-February 1st
Project Arts Centre, January 28th-February 1st, projectartscentre.ie
“You get to clock out from all this shit,” objects Tony, a beleaguered local resident and sometime gangster, in the unnamed working-class catchment where Shaun Dunne’s new play Restoration is set. “The rest of us,” he reminds the well-meaning youth worker Leanne, “the rest of us have to sleep beside it.”
The action unfolds in a rundown youth centre, where teenagers gather to participate in community-focused recreational activities. Leanne is its well-meaning manager, who has been trying to protect Tony’s brother, Paul, from condemning himself to a criminal future. Paul, however, doesn’t seem to want to help himself. Having attacked one of the other staff members at the service, Leanne is hoping to use restorative practice to heal the hurt and damage he has caused.
More importantly, she hopes to save him from the fate that his background seems to have condemned him to.
Dunne has history with the difficult subject matter, having worked as a drama facilitator with various social groups in need, and his social conscience has always informed his work, as both a writer and director. In RAPIDS (2016) he tackled the history of the HIV crisis in Ireland through political research and a surprising personal revelation. In Advocacy (2014) he explored the world of intellectual disability through the lens of its service providers, while in last year’s Making a Mark he facilitated Mark Smith, an actor with intellectual disabilities, to make his professional debut.
For Restoration, Dunne worked in consultation with youth workers, exploring the challenges of developing relationships and maintaining distance, as well as the physical and emotional stresses of the job. Restoration, however, is more narrative-led than you might expect from Dunne. It is closer to his Abbey Theatre debut The Waste Ground Party, of which he observed “there’s people talking to each other for a start”. Through its five characters – who do, indeed, talk to each other – Dunne examines the tensions embedded in social work.
Is restoration always the answer? Is there not also an appropriate time to abandon hope in redemption and call it a day?
Restoration is directed by Darren Thornton and features Kate Stanley Brennan and John Cronin in its leading roles.