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Review of DNA by Dennis Kelly performed by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

There was a moment at the end of DNA when the lights came up that I feared there would be deceased individuals surrounding me in the audience. Such was the abrupt and terrifying arrival with a strike of sound at the beginning of the play, that I surely did think someone with a dicky ticker must have succumbed. However what was greeted with general hysterics at their shock, seemed to have not made a corpse of any of the patrons.

It was a striking beginning to a tough, but also very funny play from Dennis Kelly (writer of Channel 4's excellent thriller Utopia). Telling the tale of the a group of youngsters who have killed a boy named Adam and attempt to cover up the fact. Originally written for National Theatres Connections Festival in 2007, this is a short and sharp edgy play lasting an absorbing fifty minutes or so. Having seen four of this years Connections plays earlier this year, I could certainly see the feel of this being such a play from that festival, made more so of the fact that some of the cast I recognised from being in them also.

At mention of the cast, this is a key point, as the Royal & Derngate Young Actors Company presented this play over two evenings with generally a different cast and this proved a fascinating experience to me. Seeing key characters played by different people was really enlightening and made the play even more interesting. I have to say that I personally preferred Cast X on the first evening, whether this be that it was because it was my first experience I don't know. However in particular I did feel that Sarah Johnson and Josh Smith were better cast in their roles of Lea and Phil. Johnson delivering her lines in a quicker and friskier style that for me suited the character better. Also Smith, I think fitted the role of Phil better, quiet, contemplative, yet with obvious hidden darkness and cleverer pauses. I particular liked that extra moment or two from Josh when asked for a plan. Also the waffle scene (such a quality scene), I felt was played much more to my liking by Josh.

The role of Bryony was also interesting to me as well as I really can't get off the wall as regards who gave the best performance. The key part of the role was obviously the decent into madness, and Esme Joy Allen on the first night was a whole lot more subtler in the madness compared to second nights Hannah York. York was absolutely barmy in her portrayal, wallowing, half burrowing into the leaf litter and constant cries of insanity. I think this really is a personal take on whether you want obvious madness or a more gentle one. I just can't decide even now and for me that means they did their jobs of interpreting it in their own way very well.

The rest of the cast all embodied their roles well, including the rather surreal experience of the wannabe dentist changing sex overnight (from other reviews online, it appears sex change is a big thing in performances of DNA). Once again I did prefer the first night version of this as portrayed by Naomi Hollands, but I think that for me it felt more of a female character.

Having said this, I don't really want it to appear critical of cast Y, because I don't doubt that if I had only seen the second evening, I would have delighted in the whole performance. Its very much a personal feel for the performances I think, like whether you are in the David Tennant or Tom Baker camp or you were  the Sean Connery or Daniel Craig supporter. Both casts had their own perspective on the play and style, and not one of them was wrong, its just I had a personal preference. However I am sure that this was the devious point of the youth theatre in doing this and I hope that there were a good few people who did witness the two performances to see the differences themselves.

Once again a mention of director Christopher Gorry must be required, with this following Honk (review here) and Sweeney Todd (review here), Mr Gorry has created three excellent shows from his young performers, bringing out all the talent that is obviously within them. While Meryl Couper's design altered enough from the Antigone set the previous week to make the feel nice and different with the excellent addition of the leaf litter both a visual and on my second evening in the second row, an aromatic delight. Also nice sound work from Martin Thompson, subtle and simple. Well when it wasn't trying to kill its audience anyway.

Once again a delight of a show, which undoubtedly was in its high points during the excellent interchanges between Lea and Phil. Lovely and dark stuff and a pleasure to see.


Performance reviewed: Friday 25th and Saturday 26th July 2014 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton. 

DNA was performed at the Royal & Derngate (Royal) by the Royal & Derngate Young Actors Company on the 25th and 26th July, 2014.

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