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‘DNA’, a tense drama by Dennis Kelly hits the stage at HCH

text by David Lydon

As Hampton Court House approached the end of an already successful half term, we were treated to a production of ‘DNA’ by Dennis Kelly. ‘DNA’ has recently become a GCSE set text, signifying the popularity it has gained since its original performance at the National Theatre. Dennis Kelly wrote the piece specifically for teenagers, and the naturalistic dialogue certainly rings true. Whereas the original script calls for male and female parts, this production was entirely cast by girls from Years 7, 8 and 9, creating an intriguing dynamic for the play.

The main hall was transformed into a woodland clearing, with a series of rosters forming a grassy hill elevated above the rest of the action. The staging provided a visually arresting canvas against which the intricate lighting design could set the scene. Various streets, fields and alleyways were conjured up with technical precision by Ben Wilson and Gully Dickinson, complementing the onstage drama perfectly.

DNA_12The themes of peer pressure and social intimidation were prevalent in the opening moments of the performance – an off-script improvisation begun proceedings and allowed us to enter the world of the teenage girls and their hierarchy. The high pitched intimidation of Ada (Imogen) by the other members of the ensemble set the tone; we were in for an evening of emotionally disturbing drama. Before long we had witnessed the torturing of the poor girl, with the critical moment resulting in her disappearance occurring offstage. In a neat twist, this off-text scene was staged on the upstairs gallery, inviting the audience to engage their imagination in a manner far more terrifying than actually witnessing the event first hand.

DNA_13Having allowed the audience to speculate on this cataclysmic moment, the play continued with a highly energetic interchange between Ava and Stephanie wherein fast paced dialogue was reeled off with aplomb. Barely a second was left unfulfilled as the Main Hall became a coliseum of desperation and moral disgust. The fact that such high octane scenes were followed by the beautifully played non-conversations between Phil and Leah (Xenia and Coco respectively) highlighted not only the poignancy of the play, but also the skill of the cast. To transform from one dynamic to the next is no mean feat, and every cast member was admirable in their efforts in maintaining the energy levels throughout an intense sixty minutes.

DNA_03The whole ensemble combined in several delightfully uncomfortable scenes, subtly indicating the shifts in power between the girls. There were too many gut-wrenching moments to list, and several incidents had the audience audibly gasping with disbelief. The production certainly proved the theory that live performance, no matter how brutal its depiction of morality, is compelling when accomplished with such prowess. The cast and crew can be truly proud of their achievements; they have created a theatrical work that shall live long in the memory of children and adults alike.

 

cast

Imogen, Teaghan, Xenia, Grace, Christabel, Coco, Scarlett, Maya, Ava, Stephanie, Sara, Anna

Ben Wilson, Gully, Sabrina, Saule, Teddy

 

directed by Kathryn Sumner

lighting and sound: Julian Stewart Lindsay
photos and video: Natalie Kavanagh
video score: Viktor Bijelovic