Review: School students’ break-time violence – it’s surely not in their DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid by Dennis Kelly – a Marlborough Young Actors presentation at St John’s Academy Drama Studio
Déjà vu features strongly in one of the lighter moments in this dark play. And one had a slight sense of déjà vu right from the opening of Dennis Kelly’s play.
It is a little like Lord of the Flies without the island and instead of the plane crash that sets Golding’s schoolboy mayhem in motion, here there is a ‘car crash’ bullying episode that ends in the death of Adam who falls/is made to fall into an underground cavity. Much of the rest of the play is the tangled web of lies and deceit that follows the decision to cover-up and deny - even ignore - the murder they have all been involved in.
No one has told the brooding and silent Phil, who thinks he can take command of the situation, that when in a hole it’s best to stop digging.
Not wishing to risk a spoiler alert, we can at least say there is a good twist toward the end of the play – which only leads to a further downward spiral in cause and effect.
‘Gang culture’ edges centre stage when, after the murder and the blame has been pinned onto ‘the postman with bad teeth’, they realise they have come to feel part of something and may even have found a certain happiness in their criminal enterprise: “Now everyone’s happy – grief is making them happy.”
One of the best elements of the writing is the way the now traditional routine surrounding a missing youngster is hinted at and not dwelt on: press conference, parents’ TV appeal and then banks of flowers. But this time they even name the school science lab after Adam. So he better be dead.
These eleven young actors – directed by Anna Friend – put on a really remarkable performance. They act confidently from the main characters to Leo McGurk (Adam) and Ellen Trevaskiss (Lou.)
There are several brilliant displays of fast, cross-talk gossiping between Cassie (Josie Goddard) and Jan (Rosie Walker) - their lightning fast interplay is wonderful to watch and you feel they are fully connected to the drama around them.
Eleanor Barr-Sim has great stage presence throughout and in one scene delivers her character Steph’s gripping monologue. She moves easily from the outraged “Aren’t you bothered, aren’t you even bothered” to describing her walk up to the field through a cloud of fluffy seeds from a tree: “For a second, coming up here, I felt I was an alien in this cloud.”
Perhaps the most difficult parts are Phil (Kai Price-Goodfellow) who is the weak silent type who tries to be the strong very silent type and take charge of the developing ‘car crash’. And Lea (Carys Muirhead) who thinks she may be/ought to be Phil’s girlfriend. Their scenes together have, by turn, delightful humour and sore pathos – and they carry their characters so well – right to the end…
Lea has a great scene in which she takes on a Professor Brian Cox role wondering why we are where we are and whether our world will last: “Don’t give me all that carbon dioxide – look at Venus…”
The other really tricky character to give life to is Briony - the youngest member of the group. Florence Campbell takes the part head on and her near hysterical giggling is, as it is surely meant to be, most unsettling.
Amidst the bleak plot, the cast relish the many amusing lines: will the fitted-up postman go gaol? “You can’t go to prison for bad teeth.” David Higgins has great fun with Danny’s lines: “I can’t get mixed up in this – I’m going to be a dentist. And dead people are not part of the plan.” Danny’s dentistry comes unstuck in the aftermath of the murder – as Steph puts it: “He hates it…can’t stand the cavities.”
Danny Wyatt plays John Tate an uneasy misfit in the group and possibly the least defined character in the play. But Danny Wyatt certainly gives him the necessary presence as part of the mix of attitudes towards these school students’ predicament.
Then there is Charlotte Kinniard’s Cathy and her wonderful mop of bright red hair. Cathy seems determined to be the star turn in this tragic mess. She is proud to have obtained (fortunately we are not told how) the postman’s DNA and she ends up “on telly – like a celebrity.” She is another actor with good stage presence and one rather wishes Cathy had been given more lines.
One character refers to the cover-up with the simple phrase “Omelettes and eggs”. This cast and their director turn it into something far more engrossing than any light supper of broken eggs and, though centred on extreme bleakness, great fun at the edges.
The play’s final performance is on Saturday evening. Check here to see whether there still tickets – when we last looked there were five seats still to be sold.
Click on photos to enlarge them.