First Night Review: DNA

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Open air theatre can be a scarring experience. Typically, the sound gets lost and so the actors over-perform to compensate – all to an audience too busy wishing they’d brought coats to notice. Not so for DNA. Louisa Hollway and her cast stride as far from ‘typical’ as you can get both in terms of open air theatre and student drama itself.

The plot demands a creative approach as it juxtaposes a traditional bullying hierarchy with an almost unthinkable outcome. Their victim, Adam (Matt Gavan), disappears. He leaves a void behind him. The rest of the gang feel they must fill it with an explanation for his death in order to exonerate themselves, while individually struggling to normalize the terror which bubbles under the surface of every conversation.

The energy is constantly high. Sitting on blankets in the centre of the action, the audience swivel as the scenes change and the characters bombard them from different angles. The cast function as an excellent team, working together to maintain the fraught atmosphere and the lack of adult reserve, but manage to do so without eclipsing their individual performances.

DNA continuously pairs the mundane with the morbid. The archetypal gum-chewer Cathy, (Rachel Atkins) shows flashes of sadism, while the taciturn snacker, Phil (Jeremy Neumark-Jones) propels the action with his occasional lines. These take the form of psychopathically-delivered instructions for the framing of an imaginary ‘postman with bad teeth’, and become increasingly sinister when Cathy overenthusiastically follows her instructions a little too closely, turning their untruths into a nightmarish situation.

Until the ending, this allows the teenagers to enter a limbo, coping in various darkly amusing ways. Leah (Lauren Hyatt) particularly so, showcasing a hamster which she’s stabbed with a screwdriver in a bid to understand death in that emblem of packed lunches, the Tupperware container. Her monologues addressing Phil are a particular comic highlight, as much for her elastic facial expressions as for her refusal to be perturbed by his unresponsiveness.

I’ve never seen a production so suited to its site. Aeroplanes and intrusive ducks were incorporated, and thus contributed to an impressive blurring of theatre and reality. Technical devices were neither used nor needed. Hollway’s production earns its five stars exclusively for the basics: uniformly fantastic acting and directing. As such, it is a great rarity within student drama. Don’t miss it.

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