Adam is dead: is it murder or merely a joke taken too far? Either way, the thoughtless actions of a group of teenagers have resulted in tragedy. Hull Truck Theatre’s performance of Dennis Kelly’s DNA follows a group of friends as they attempt to put things right and continue on with their lives. How long can they hold it together, or will tensions in the group eventually result in the exposure of the truth? A popular text, studied by over 400,000 sixteen year olds every year, DNA touches on a wide range of pertinent issues – the need for inclusion, the pressures of social hierarchy and the cost of ‘fitting in’. However, could a play with such a strong connection to a certain age group also speak to a wider audience under the direction of the National Theatre’s Anthony Banks?
Lakeside’s versatile Djanogly Theatre was cleverly used to stage a simple yet effective performance. The bar coded floor and fluid, plastic back wall were both transformed throughout the performance through the inventive lighting work of James Mackenzie as the scenes moved from the woods to the city to a desolate field. The omission of an interval in this performance allowed for the essential development of tension, which together with the subject matter, held the attention of the young audience. Alex Baranowski’s sound design added a sense of urgency to moments of panic, which then contrasted with quiet moments of contemplation, reflecting the bewildering nature of the teenagers’ dilemma.
This performance owes much to Kelly’s original characterisation of Leah, Phil and Brian, amongst other characters, although the arguments and taunting of the teenage characters occasionally became repetitive to the slightly older audience member. However, judging by the enthusiastic response of the school-age crowd, the actors had succeeded in engaging their target audience. Special mention must go to James Alexandrou and Leah Brotherhead, who played Phil and Leah respectively, whose periodic moments of reflection often shone an alternative light on events and created an tangible sense of frustration and helplessness.
However, at the centre of this play is the death of a young teenager at the hands of his friends. While the piece was not without its solemn moments, and the presentation of the bullied figure was suitably haunting, I felt that the events were often received by the young audience as humorous – a somewhat inappropriate response considering the context.
Anthony Banks’ production of this heavily studied play was thought-provoking and relevant. The young audience made clear their appreciation by their reaction to the most harrowing descriptions and ideas in the play, leaving no doubt the performance spoke directly to its target audience. For the more mature members of the audience, this performance was a stark reminder of the potentially disastrous effects of what is often dismissed as light-hearted, play-ground teasing.