DNA by Dennis Kelly, The Hub, Central Sussex College, Haywards Heath, Ariel Company Theatre, November 1
Why do people say that your teens are the best years of your life?
Ask any twenty-something about their adolescence and they’ll either tell you how awful it was or simply wince and change the subject.
It’s not just the physical and emotional changes either. School can be a particularly scary place full of changing loyalties and petty power struggles.
DNA, a hard-hitting drama by Dennis Kelly, captures this very well, pushing its school-age characters into an extreme situation to observe how they react.
The play begins after Adam, a social outcast, has apparently fallen to his death while enduring some degrading tests so he can be accepted by the main group of characters.
Greg Pearson, playing Mark, does a good job of conveying the reality-distorting logic behind sadistic behaviour when describing this event, saying that the bullying was simply a joke that Adam was in on.
Meanwhile Sacha Botting gives her character, Jan, a more frightened outlook, which makes her instantly sympathetic.
Trace Tate, the lead bully played by Izzy Cryer, is surprisingly sympathetic too, as it seems that her aggression stems from her fear. Jarrod Hopson (Richard) and Lizzie Martin (Lou) express this fear as well, but in quieter and subtler ways.
There are few light moments in this play, but the young actors manage to get the most out of them. Chelsea Hennessey, for example, talks in long-winded, comical monologues as Leah, a girl constantly trying to provoke a response from her sort-of boyfriend. John Matthews does well as Danny, presenting a teen set on a career as a dentist, who’s just worried that Adam’s killing will prevent him from getting good references.
Katie Duke also gets some laughs as Cathy. She plays the character effectively; oblivious to the seriousness of the situation and thinking that it’s simply a chance for excitement.
This upbeat outlook doesn’t last long, however, as Cathy develops a taste for violence.
Most of the characters have intensely emotional responses to Adam’s death, like the increasingly manic Brian (played by Tom Anning), which helps make Tom Carey’s performance as Phil memorable. Phil, a quiet and disconnected teen, organises the cover-up precisely. He’s the icy heart of the play. One minute he’s calmly eating sweets (or listening to dubstep) the next he’s threatening to kill those who disobey him and Tom Carey shows remarkable control by keeping his character placid.
Events take an even darker turn in the second half. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that Will Carey puts in a suitably disturbing performance that should stay with audiences long after the play’s grim conclusion.
Free trials with Ariel are available at the new Haywards Heath Academy. Visit www.arielct.co.uk.
Picture by Stephen Candy.