first night


Rosie Boscawen is impressed by First Person Theatre Company's production of Dennis Kelly's DNA

For all the horrors of its subject matter and the pre-play video that went online earlier this week, Dennis Kelly’s ‘DNA’ is actually very funny. Everyone loves a gander at pictures of one’s peers in their youth and there are plenty up for grabs – on the programme and on the screen during scene changes. It’s a shame that the same song is played over everyone, but not something that can ruin the atmosphere created by the rest of the set and performances.

A brief word on the set: it is a work of art. The performances across the cast are strong, the direction is effective, but the set is a masterpiece. Think the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern on a slightly smaller scale (which is effectively the same because no one was paid millions of pounds to make the Assembly Rooms version). The outside world has been brought in – leaves are strewn everywhere and they rustle unnervingly at every step. Silhouetted characters amongst the trees at the beginning of scenes add to the ghostliness and the sense that there is a lot more to these characters than is immediately apparent in the dialogue we hear.

For example, only at the end do we learn something to help explain the eerie silence of Steffan Griffiths’ Phil. His refusal to speak is, in spite of the questions it raises, comically dramatised, with subtle details like the tortuous slowness of his eating and the fact that he rarely makes eye-contact with any of his friends creating an air of nervous awkwardness at which one can only laugh. This plays off well against Clare Reavey as Leah and her incessant chattering. She handles her lines deftly, balancing speaking incredibly fast against poignant pauses and never letting a word get lost.

Also worthy of note is David Head as Mark, in particular for his painfully drawn out confession of what the group did. At once ignoring Tessa Coates’ (Jan) mania and drawing on what she says, he conveys the hilarity of the ‘game’ at the time, yet laces it with the sickening panic we are all feeling. The different characters’ reactions to the events of the play, from Cathy (Lucy Cornell) who becomes frighteningly aggressive, to Brian (Sam Kingston-Jones) are handled well, and although the parts are relatively small, the psychological trauma is powerfully expressed.

I am not 100% convinced by the script, due to the precarious balance between serious drama and the arguably over-explored ‘what do children do when left to their own devices?’ and ‘isn’t it exciting when you’re young and first come to think about the big questions of life?’ themes. Nevertheless, this production is intelligent and unsettling. It keeps the script in check and will leave you wondering what the quiet boy in the corner of your school days might have done in his lonesome hours.

4 February 2011

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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