Writer: Dennis Kelly
Director: Rob Salmon
Reviewer: Paul Couch
What happens when our behaviour spirals out of control? Do we try to arrest it and risk making matters worse, or do we let it freefall in the hope that the end result won’t be as bad as we initially feared? When you’re trying to plug multiple holes in a dyke, what happens when you run out of fingers and toes?
Those are the challenges facing a group of teenagers in Dennis Kelly’s simmering one-act play, DNA. What starts off as a juvenile act of “having a laugh” bullying ends in tragedy and alters the lives of all concerned. Loyalties are stretched, wits are shredded, and the darkest recesses of the human psyche exposed.
Let’s be honest, we’re talking about a group of 11 adolescents here, more than half of whom are male, so the writing’s on the wall fairly early on. It’s a wonder that FOH staff at the New Wolsey Studio don’t hand out mops and buckets to the audience as they enter to deal with the oceanic amount of testosterone sloshing about.
Performances by the latest generation of the New Wolsey Young Company are, on the whole, promising. Occasionally nervous jazz-hands and shrill voices get the better of one or two but there is much potential here once stagecraft and self-confidence are developed.
Baby-faced Sam Pote at first appears to have been badly miscast as psychopath-in-waiting Phil but the words of cold, dispassionate detachment that emanate from his mouth – once he starts speaking (it takes a while) – assuage those fears and replace them with a solid ice chill for the rest of the performance. In between pigging out on calorific snacks, Phil doesn’t say much but, when he does, people listen.
Mollie Steward’s Leah fills in the gaps when Phil’s not talking and she can rabbit for England. It would give too much away to explain just how Through The Looking Glass one of the scenes between Leah and her peers is but, safe to say, in Steward’s capable hands, dialogue that is potentially humorous draws not a titter from the audience, who are entranced.
The rest of the cast also bring intelligent, well-structured and highly competent performances to the table, even if some are a little on the screechy side; the age-old scenario of acting out how they think their characters would react to a situation, rather than channelling the character naturally, but that will come with experience.
Kelly’s script isn’t without its faults; one character, who plays an integral part in the opening exposition and appears to be the group’s alpha-male, is sent packing back to the dressing room after 20 minutes, never to be seen again, save for a few references made by his mates/victims, only to be replaced by The Real Deal, for example.
Rob Salmon’s set is less detailed and naturalistic than in previous outings, consisting of five diagonal tracks running from floor to ceiling, along which multi-coloured rope lights dance and flicker, adding an ‘urban jungle’ vibe to the proceedings. This minimalist approach is underscored by deafening, cacophonic chords clearly designed to unsettle the audience – which it does.
If DNA signifies a fresh direction for this new Young Company, then it shouldn’t take too long to bed in. Perhaps, though, a case of too drastic a shift to attract immediately those who are not family or friends? Time will tell.
Runs until 22 October 2016 | Image: Mike Kwasniak