What a wonderful play is DNA. Dennis Kelly puts together a story akin to a modern and co-educational Lord of the Flies, digging deeply into characters and relationships to prompt reflections on human behaviour. The play was first presented in the Cottesloe at the National Theatre in 2007 and has become a staple of the GCSE Drama curriculum since then. No wonder, given the power of its storytelling.

A well told tale of child’s inhumanity to child

We meet a gang of schoolchildren, a wide range of characters. Something has happened. Someone is dead. The children must respond to events as they unfold and, as they respond, their characters take shape.

The play is presented to us here by students from the University of Southampton, where theatre is clearly booming, one of a string of their productions at the Fringe. The production uses a series of boxes to set the scene - it is also simply but effectively costumed and lit.

The company work together wonderfully as an ensemble, supporting each other very well and often physically, in a series of Frantic Assembly-style movement pieces. The relationship between the ruthless brooding Phil (Xander Searson) and gabbling Leah (Belle Priestley) is played out well by two excellent actors. Saskia Bindloss gives a nuanced performance as Mary, with a wonderfully judged pause just before she reveals who is in trouble. There are plenty of interesting and well judged performances delivered by the cast.

At their best, the movement pieces so central to this production are excellent. We enjoy seeing Adam fall (is this intended to be a biblical reference?) and his movement through a dark passage is powerfully presented and interestingly lit. At times, however, the movement is overplayed and feels unnecessary, even unwelcome, such as in Leah’s flight piece. At one point, there is an effective shadowing piece with four couples mirroring Phil and Leah’s movements. How disappointing that these are all conventional male-female pairings, with the woman ultimately always sitting subordinate to the man. The movement is lovely but a chance to tell a more nuanced story of different types of relationship seems missed.

As we approach the latter stages of the play, the performance becomes very heavy and loses the subtlety that has so effectively built early tension. There is too much shouting for me in this final third, and it takes away from the overall power of the piece. I would prefer more light and shade.

At their best, the boxes are effective at facilitating set changes but at times, the process of redistributing the boxes to make a slightly different picture becomes overly lengthy, and the accompanying drawn out blackouts slow down the pace.

Despite all this, the Company are doing the University of Southampton proud in this production and there is much to enjoy in a well told tale of child’s inhumanity to child.

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The Blurb

Paperlight Theatricals makes its grand return to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe! This dark and intriguing show involves a group of teenagers covering up the death of a friend. However, when things go awry, they must decide what defines them. Will they submit to their animalistic nature or forge their own sense of morality? Dennis Kelly's DNA is reimagined through the lens of physical theatre, in the style of Frantic Assembly, to give new life to this classic piece of modern theatre.

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