DreamBIG Review: Removed

Less than an hour, more than a lifetime.

Less than an hour, more than a lifetime.

Presented by: DreamBIG Children’s Festival
Produced by: Una NicEion
Reviewed: 24 May, 2023

A bare, black box with a black bench in the middle of it and a large black blank screen. It’s austere, waiting to be filled with something and then Conor O’Donnell walks onto the stage in his red T shirt and lights up the world of his childhood. He brings to life an Ireland full of peelers (cops, if you need a translation), street mischief and the world of a six year old boy whose life is about to change, with the artistry of the magical storyteller he is.

It’s not a pretty story when you are removed from your home environment and taken into foster care because your Mum can’t cope and disappears into the oblivion of alcohol to ease the pain of life with two young boys to care for on her own after the death of her husband. But this is information that gets revealed later in the story as O’Donnell brings to life the environment of Adam as he has his world put into a plastic bag, and he and his two-and-a –half year old brother are put into foster care; without the dinosaurs he should have been playing with to keep his brother amused and his prize possession red toy car.

O’Donnell’s journey for the next fifty minutes or so revolves around foster care, the string of social workers assigned to help him, his brother’s adoption, his own fear of being left with no voice. It sounds relentless, but O’Donnell and Emma Jordon, the director, have found a unique and accessible journey for the brilliant text of Fionnuala Kennedy. The words are sharp, incisive and never a wasted moment. There is no indulgence here, just the journey of a boy through his life in care until at the age of 18 he is thrust unceremoniously into the bewildering world of adulthood with no parental guidance. Just the relentless battle to maintain a sense of self in the dehumanising battleground of the state system care.

This is a play that should be mandatory viewing for anyone involved in state based care and the care and development of young people dealing with the trauma of being removed from their family environment. The fact that a young adult audience remained engrossed in this piece for the duration of the show tells us they are challenged, and have an empathetic response, to O’Donnell’s brilliant portrayal of Adam. But, as was evident when O’Donnell broke the fourth wall, they understood the challenges and agreed with the responses they were presented with.

I can’t praise the piece of work that is Removed enough. Ciaran Bagnall’s simple but effective set design focuses the action constantly back to the actor. Paul Keogan’s LX design is simple but very effective. Conan McIvor’s AV design never intrusive but always honest to the mood and action of the work. And Emma Jordan’s sensitive and courageous direction gave Conor O’Donnell such a secure platform to stand Fionnuala Kennedy’s words on. It will endure and give pause for thought for generations of audiences. It’s one of those pieces of work that changes the way you see the world, no matter how old you are.

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes

Photo credit: Hi Jump Design

Venue: Space Theatre, Festival Centre
Season: 26th – 27th May 2023
Duration: 55 minutes
Tickets: $30.00 Conc $25.00 Family of 4(admits 4) $100.00

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