Last night I took my teenage daughter to see DNA (written by Dennis Kelly and performed by Hull Truck) at Kingston’s Rose Theatre. Whilst I had often passed this modern theatre – for it is in a picturesque location just past the old town square and near the waterside – I hadn’t been inside before.
There were literally hundreds of other teenagers there – and many had come in school and college groups and there was a real buzz in the huge foyer. The play was first performed at the National Theatre in 2008 and recently became a core set-text on the GCSE English syllabus. Despite the crowds, we still managed to get to the bar for some soft drinks and chocolate to fortify us through the 1.25 hour performance.
The theatre is a large rotund building with a domed ceiling and low level amphitheatre seating. There were a fair few folk sitting on the floor in the centre whilst my daughter and I shared a rather cute double flip down bench seat. The stage was pretty bare – although there were some vertical blinds onto which films were projected to convey locations in the town and the countryside.
After some rather loud music, two teenagers appeared on screen – it was hard to know what was happening as Cathy’s (played by Elexi Walker) voice didn’t project well when she wasn’t facing the audience. But we gathered that she was telling her companion that someone was dead.
The scene quickly switches to a light hearted picnic scene (we loved the little mat of grass) where the brilliant comic actress Leah Brotherhead (playing a character also called Leah) did a fantastic job of holding an animated conversation with Phil (played by James Alexandrou who is Martin Fowler in Eastenders) who doesn’t say a word. I think every single teenage girl could relate to her frustration at talking to a non-responsive male. And then they receive the bad news.
We meet the full group of teenagers. There’s rivalry between some of the males – Richard and John. There’s fear from one of the girls – Lou – and Cathy starts evolving into her dominant role. There’s a great line from Danny (played by Tom Clegg) who says “I can’t get mixed up in this, I’m going to be a dentist”. Brian (Daniel Francis-Swaby) starts as a tearful, weak guy yet develops into his role too - his medication induced euphoria had us in stitches of laughter later in the production. We will both remember his “Let’s rub our faces against the earth” scene forever.
After a while we settled into the rhythm of the play with the drama unfolding amongst the group one moment – where Phil is the leader - alternating with conversation between Phil and Leah in the field the next where he remains silent. Some of the topics Leah talks about are pretty far reaching and at time her observations are almost surreal, but they are convincingly portrayed. The ability of a crisis to unite a disparate group was extended to showing how it could make everyone happy.
The script is crisp, punchy, intelligent and beautifully observed and with no hint of condescension to its teenage characters or audience. It’s funny too, even though the source of the drama – some bullying that goes badly wrong and then made a whole lot worse as they try to cover their wrong doing - is pretty serious. It’s a sort of modern day and grown up version of “Lord of the flies” with its dark undertone of violence, self-preservation, pack beahviour and errant leadership.
The production is on at Kingston today and tomorrow and then tours around the country. Other near-London appearances are:
8 – 10th March in Croydon
17-28 April at the Children’s Unicorn Theatre at London Bridge
8 – 9th May at Watford