Review – DNA by Dennis Kelly

DNA by Dennis Kelly – New Wolsey Young Company – New Wolsey Studio until Saturday

DNA is a contemporary play – now a set text in schools – written in 2007 by Dennis Kelly who is best known for co writing ‘Matilda the Musical’ with Tim Minchin and the comedy series ‘Pulling’ which aired on BBC 3.

It follows a group of teenagers who have their own hierarchy and pairings off. Two of their number – Mark and Jan – are messing about in the woods with Adam when the bullying of him goes too far with tragic consequences. The rest of their mates decide to stick together and make up a story to cover their tracks. Unfortunately – as with all lies – it builds and develops a life of its own – and in the process all their lives change forever.

This play has many shades of Golding’s Lord of The Flies, and as such needs to create an underlying menace from the familiar. On a bare stage – apart from some angled poles lit from inside with multicoloured strands – this company played out an atmospheric rendition of this hard hitting piece that drew you in and made you believe in their ability to be caught up in the most heinous of acts.

Director Rob Salmon always manages to get the best out of the Young Company – keeping the action tight yet pacy – and with great attention to detail. The lead character of Phil – beautifully played with absolute control by Sam Pote – is called on to eat his way through half a convenience store during the course of the play! Yet each mouthful was timed to perfection. And when he was called on to show his true colours – was totally believable as the one actually in charge of the group. He was well matched by Mollie Steward playing girlfriend Leah – the chatterbox who is actually the moral compass. Her monologues were well judged and balanced.

The whole company was excellent though and worked really well as a team, but mention should also be made of Tom Beattie who although only in the first scene made his mark as a menacing John Tate and Charlotte Sheehan, a lovely unbalanced Cathy.

The short sharp bursts of music added to the atmosphere – and as the twists unfolded the company built up the intensity to the final outcome.

This isn’t an easy play to sit through as the themes are quite adult and there is a lot of strong language – so not suitable for under 14s – but very much recommended  if you can get a ticket.

One small point – the names of the characters seemed rather 1970’s and at odds with the contemporary nature of the piece – but that is something I’ll have to take up with the writer!

Suzanne Hawkes

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