DNA is Nottingham New Theatre’s latest collaboration with Lakeside Arts, combining all the talent of the student actors with the creative flare of the highly experienced director Giles Croft and his innovative assistant Amy Crighton. The play follows ten teens wound up in the manslaughter of their friend Adam. Fear and morality are at constant war with each other, seen in the journey of the characters and fueled by the twists and turns of the plot.
You may have seen the brooding posters around campus, adorning a dark forest and the bold title “DNA” giving a near sci-fi feel to first impressions. Perhaps you studied the play, written by Dennis Kelly, at GCSE? The audience full of 16-year-olds and eager teachers certainly have done, entering the play with expectations and ideas which were to be met or challenged. I for one had never heard of the play before and entered the lovely theatre at Lakeside Arts feeling much less erudite than my fellow audience members.
“The cast even rehearsed outdoors in a wood to truly form an interactive element with their set.”
A production in this space allowed for the directors and artistic team to stretch out of the confines of the student theatre space and embrace the larger stage and more elaborate lighting. The cast even rehearsed outdoors in a wood to truly form an interactive element with their set. One enters to a stage covered in stalagmite and stalactite-esque looking tree trunks on top of a perfect circle of bark. For those interested in the making of theatre, I later discovered the trees were spray painted carpet rolls, and the bark was painted tire shreddings (it’s amazing what a bit of brown spray paint and smoky lighting can do). The backdrop is black, with abstract strands of DNA subtly worked onto the darkness. With each scene change comes a wave of DNA-looking lighting (despite the technical errors for this performance, the effect was still impactful). Where only two characters are involved, they sit on the edges of the stage, with the misty backdrop adding a sulky air to the words being said.
“In embodying the many ways different people act in the face of grief and fear, DNA is a play about humans, how far humans can and will go.”
We are first met by Jan and Max, our somewhat unconventional narrators as they panic over the newest developments in the plot, staring out into the audience and leaving many gaps in their speech adding to the inherent ambiguity and distress of the play. This was no sci-fi. Instead the tale is one of death and a struggle to hide wrongdoings in elaborate plots and schemes. With clashing personalities and near psychopathic actions, the characters are drowned by their secrets. When they send an innocent man to prison, the web of lies becomes more and more tangled, ironically causing most characters to become better; they help people, they work for charities. The perfect ring of bark is disrupted by footfall, leaving trails of the ten friends in a web of destruction and a twisted unity in the face of separation.
Whilst the acting was perhaps a little overdone and overworked at times, the actors were successful in portraying the moral ambiguities of the production. In embodying the many ways different people act in the face of grief and fear, DNA is a play about humans, how far humans can and will go. You have the psychotic violence of Cathy- eerie in its lack of visual accompaniment, only heard of by audiences through other characters. You have the chilling silence of Phil, who frustrates the passionate talkative Leah yet learns his deep need for her company. Brian turns to tears and lets his fear consume him, whilst our jittery “narrators” proceed to continue upon a life of petty crime.
In one of Leah’s monologues (to an unresponsive Phil), she discusses the relation between bonobos and humans in a somewhat confusing yet relevant exploration of what truly makes mankind different from animals, and what makes us so very like animals. DNA runs not only in lighting, it is a crucial element to their schemes, and is something that both links all of mankind and equally separates us into unique beings, just as the play aims to explore such ideas. When new developments in the plot are discovered, each character is dragged lower and lower into their chaos of destruction until they are left changed forever by the play’s events.
“Indeed, the silence of the play is perhaps more impactful than the words spoken.”
The play definitely made the audiences think deeply about issues and even had the woman next to me in tears at the harrowing themes. It is a psychological endeavour, one of brutality and naivety and humanity all assisted by the dark set and subtle musical elements. Even the costumes, a mass of skinny jeans and weathered jackets, helped to assert the normality of these characters in the mass of abnormality.
I had the pleasure of watching the Q & A session afterwards which offered a lot of insight into the thought that went into the performance. I would like to include what director Giles Croft said about Phil, and it is something to consider when watching; “Phil is the director of the play”, “it is not about his speech, it is about his actions”. Indeed, the silence of the play is perhaps more impactful than the words spoken.
This production is an interesting psychological experience and contained a good balance of humour and intensity. It is definitely a piece to be proud of for the effort and attention to detail. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening and wish to congratulate all involved, it must be especially nerve wracking when having to face a crowd of teachers who have taught the play for years.
Featured image and article image courtesy of Mark James.