Just because you’ve committed a crime doesn’t mean you have to be caught; at least, not if you can devise a clever cover-up. For one person, acting alone, to achieve this would be difficult, but it proves increasingly impossible for a group of teenagers. However, they are blessed, or cursed, with a leader whose skills range from the wildly imaginative to the psychopathic. Just what is needed in this situation.

Stunning, brutal, yet humorous.

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama has partnered with the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch to put on this staunchly solid production of Dennis Kelly’s intense black comedy DNA. The play is powerfully directed by Douglas Rintoul, who has worked in a freelance capacity at the School and now combines that collaboration with his role as Artistic Director at the Queen’s Theatre, having previously been a long-standing associate at Complicté. The cast comprises of eleven final year students on the BA (Hons) Acting Collaborative and Devised Theatre Course led by Catherine Alexander and there is not a weak link among them. Given the nature of this production each deserves a mention.

The opening banter is given to Mae Munuo (Jan) and William Pyke (Mark), who in repeated staccato sentences set the scene with a series of humorous if somewhat brain-dead observations; a delightful style they maintain throughout, often seeming surprised at their own words. In stark contrast, Colette McNulty (Leah) bursts forth with passion in several gripping rants, trying in vain through a range of topics to gain the attention of the boy at the opposite end of the bench. Seated there, in disturbing and menacing stony silence, is Sam Rhodes (Phil) who also amusingly eats his way through an assortment of snacks in scenes with her, but becomes the brains behind the scheme to avoid police detection. Before that plan is expounded Marko Kovac (John Tate) claims centre stage and commandingly delivers threatening speeches against those whose way of talking about the situation upsets him.

Meanwhile, Sidsel Rostrup (Cathy) cleverly plays the one to look out for as she rises from obscurity revealing more of her self-centred and increasingly unpleasant nature as the plot thickens. Mark Foy (Richard) easily handles his character’s fluctuating position within the group, dispensing sarcasm as a means of asserting himself when his bid for power is foiled. Linn Johansson (Lou) is content to go with the flow of whatever happens, amusingly using a few expressions of shock or comment that reflect her gullibility and possibly limited intellectual capacity. Out on a limb of his own, Brett Curtis (Danny) is the only one of the group who, through his career ambition and desire to do well, acts as reminder that those caught up in this mess are just school kids. He does so with some delightful odontological humour. Finely demonstrating vulnerability and weakness Hughie Stanley (Brian) suffers the group’s bullying and portrays a graduated decline into mental feebleness. To say much about Joseph Aylward’s contribution could lead to spoilers, but he gives a truly moving and chilling performance as The Boy that heightens the intrinsic tragedy of the plot.

Designer Natalie Jackson, lighting designer Stephen Pemble and sound designer Jack Baxter have clearly worked well together in creating the complete environment for this play to work. Performed without a break the writing is divided into four acts with a frantic total of fourteen scenes. This makes for rapid movement from one scene to the next, with items denoting the various locations being rolled on and off and brought back for recurring settings. All this was handled consummately by the cast without loss of character, but it did rather become an activity in its own right. Special mention also needs to go to Joe Trill, the voice and accent coach, who managed to create a unifying sound from actors drawn from several parts of the world.

Issues of leadership, power, manipulation and honesty are always worth examining and this production is a stunning, brutal, yet humorous expose of the human condition.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

DNA is a modern day black comedy with a dark heart. It was first performed at the National Theatre in 2007. Written by Dennis Kelly (Utopia, Pulling & Matilda the Musical), this explosive tale of a group of misfits at the edge of society is directed by Artistic Director Douglas Rintoul and performed by The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama undergraduates from the BA (Hons) Acting CDT course

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