CentralDramaReviewYouth Theatre

DNA – The STUDIO, Birmingham REP

Writer: Dennis Kelly

Director: Tom Saunders

Reviewer: John Kennedy

A disparate cohort of teenagers participates in a danger-dare game that goes fatally wrong for Adam. The enigmatic Phil contrives a collective alibi that works desperately too well when an innocent man is charged with Adam’s abduction. He is doomed by DNA: complicit ‘evidence’ one of them inventively plants on his clothes. There are twists and a haunting dénouement. All sounds promising for a tense, tight plot. Not quite; writer, Dennis Kelly, contrives to juxtapose surreality with teenage angst and group neurosis. Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis set the bar very high indeed with this theme of collective teenage hysteria. This production disappointingly stumbles in its run-up,  failing to reach anywhere near it.

The actual cover-up, subsequent conspiracy and fairly predictable reveal, though riddled with holes deeper and wider than the one Adam falls in to, could be allowed narrative licence. Were the play to maintain a more cohesive dynamic, maintaining a narrative constant of pace, jeopardy and climactic moral dilemma, it might be considerably shorter but much more coherent and inclusive. Inevitably there are echoes of The Lord Of The Flies – Phil, the amoral Jack, perhaps? More pertinent still, the credibility of the characters maintaining their binding dark secret is severely compromised by the complete absence of social media use. That the DNA test was completed in four days sets the plot very much in the present day.

Each scene transition is punctuated by a burst of sound-effect static crackle segueing into inchoate fractured dialogues that attempts to heighten both the frightened characters sense of increasing confusion, of fear and of denial. Sometimes they are effective – sometimes just white noise distraction: perhaps that’s the intention. Ever wanting to please everyone, air-head Leah’s interminable rambling monologue whilst the carrier-bag obsessed Phil ignores her occupies a substantial part of the play. These parallel diversions are hard to fathom other than to predicate Phil’s later horrific resolution to a plot-shifting thorny problem (quite literally) that unexpectedly confronts the whole group.

Historically and artistically, the Young REP ensemble never asks for, nor expects, allowance for their age and emerging craft (it is a given nonetheless). Their spectacular Rotters Club being but one instance where the former proved demonstrably irrelevant anyway. That being said, tonight’s production leaves them unduly exposed, revealing DNA as genetically flawed, its subliminal ruse at maintaining a double-helix narrative spiralling out of control.

Runs until 7 April 2018 | Image: Graeme Braidwood

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Genetically flawed

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