EFR - Reviews of DNA

DNA

Sun 11th – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Ben Williams

at 01:14 on 14th Aug 2013

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The King’s Players’ production of Dennis Kelly’s ‘DNA’ cleverly balances the poignant and the ridiculous. The unbelievable series of coincidental events that follows a group of teenagers after they accidentally kill a classmate gives way to intelligent discussions of the ethics, guilt and accountability, interspersed with hilarious and relatable comedy.

While some of the acting more closely resembled caricatures than characters, there was much to be commended. Particular highlights included Elise VanLil as Leah and Laura Fatchett as Cathy, whose larger than life characters easily stole every scene in which they appeared. Credit should also go to Steve Hodgetts as Mark and Cat Palenthorpe as Jan, whose exceptional timing gave the moments of comic relief the kick and pace that they needed.

The play’s success continued into other aspects of the production. The lighting, for instance, was exceptionally effective, with the use of mobile phone light to create a striking opening. The cast’s command of the thrust staging also had a great impact, to the point that the audience almost became unaware that characters were placed in strategic positions to maximise visibility and appeared incredibly natural throughout.

Yet the piece was not without its misgivings. Questions were raised by some of Charlie Kember’s direction, as the muddle of different class accents severely weakened the status of characters within the group. Additionally, there was a considerable problem with the balance between characters themselves. Much of Ben Dallyn’s work as Phil was intense and contained, and when his character was placed in scenes with several others, or even alone with VanLil, his often powerful performance was greatly overshadowed.

Similarly, the music, which had been specifically composed for the piece, failed to add anything more significant to the onstage drama than atmospheric piano chords. Many of the characters too came across as a little lack lustre, particularly Dan Harris as John Tate and Joe Prestwich as Richard, whose rather limp characters were supposed to resemble the conflicting alpha males of the group, leaving other cast members to carry their weight.

Oh the whole, however, its shortcomings certainly did not hinder the wider messages or power of the piece delivered by the cast. In fact, ‘DNA’ was both entertaining and thought-provoking, with several standout performances that make it well worth a visit.

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Suzanne Duffy

at 09:44 on 14th Aug 2013

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Dennis Kelly’s ‘DNA’ is already an intense play, yet in the tiny dark space at the Zoo Southside with a minimal set, the King’s Players manage to push the intensity to an extreme by creating a pressure cooker environment, in which, one feels, anything could happen to their characters.

A murder is announced in the first scene and the subsequent attempted cover-up by a group of popular young people parodies the power politics of a teenage friendship groups excellently. Anyone who knows his TV work (which includes Channel 4’s ‘Utopia’) would expect black humour from Kelly, but this means that the actors involved had to tread a careful line between melodrama and slapstick. Fortunately, they pulled this off with aplomb.

Elise VanLil’s Leah is excellent and unnerving as she manages to be touching, funny and psychotic by turns in her long monologues. The exact nature of her relationship with Phil (Ben Dallyn) is never quite explained. He appears silent onstage, munching various snacks, while she pours out her thoughts. Through this demeanour, he managed to make himself both a running joke and a disturbing presence.

Scenes with absurd humour, such as when the gang try to blame a “fat postman with bad teeth” for the murder, are mixed with darker undertones like the brooding and threatening performance of Dan Harris as the leather jacketed John Tate. A later throwaway mention that “he hasn’t been seen in weeks” cranks up the creepy atmosphere as the audience wonders what could have happened to the character who seemed to be so in control.

The play is all about control, and the skilfulness of the cast comes to the fore as they act out a slow shifting of the power balance. Leah, who at first seems mad, emerges as the sane moral centre of the friendship group, while other characters begin to crack around the edges, with Brian (Jeff Scott) taking medication and Richard (Joe Prestwich) believing in aliens, in a reversal so gradual you barely realise it is happening.

Cat Palethorpe and Steve Hodgetts make a truly fantastic comic duo in their scenes together as Mark and Jan. They provide light relief while also furthering the plot; they deliver shocking information to the audience about offstage occurrences, without making their roles appear forced. Again it is the mix of the comic and the dark that makes this play so successful.

The only complaint I have is about the music, which was specially composed for this performance but got lost behind the fast-paced dialogue, while the real atmosphere was created by accomplished and masterful acting.

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