DNA poster image

This is an unofficial reflection on the play: not a review as I was not invited to this as a reviewer but as a practitioner, and it is with my director/dramaturgy hat I write about this piece, not my reviewer’s “will the audience get their money’s worth” hat.
After missing the launch of the 2009 season last night I made my way to the opening of DNA by Dennis Kelly directed by Kellie Mackereth at The Old Fitzroy Hotel. The start of a bold and glossy year, complete with the usual suspects of Fringe theatre, DNA is a relatively new international play , first performed (according to the program) in the Cottesloe Auditorium of the National Theatre in 2008. (there is a difference first performed notice on Doollee: http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsK/kelly-dennis.html if that matters to you). In anycase a new play from the UK.

The space designed by Jessie Giraud is dark and wool-floored: it seems like grey cottony insulation “bats” have been laid on the floor. Instantly my stage managerial past rears its unfun head and says: “is that a trip hazard?” and “has this been sprayed with fire retardant?” how will that last over weeks of trampling? And the space is its home shade of black: a surprising and refreshing change. Light bulbs hang like crotchets on a jazz manuscript throughout the stage: unpredictably ordered by lighting designer Tom Brickhill ( a little reminiscent of Travis Green’s show last year with Andrew Bibby: Radio). A blend of music introduces the play: thanks to Sound Designer/ composer Rosie Chase who has worked with Mackereth on other projects: Bumming with Jane BSharp 2008 and later this year Under Ice at The Stables.

A quick interchange from some actors about a death and we are underway. The action centres around the death of an unnamed boy by a group of teenagers and the ensuing drama which binds and yet unravels them. This is a play about the disturbing need for direction and absolution, about survival and leadership and itis brutal in its portrayal of human behaviour. However, a huge amount of the action of the play is recounted, not seen. We are told of the actions. We are told of the consequences. We are not shown anything. A fantastic problem and juicy ethical and moral questions are raised, but in this production, the stakes are not raised high enough. Large lumpy clumsy seguays impede the pace of the script, Not at all assisted by clumsy blocking (why oh why is there such a desire for the upper level to be used when so much clambering is to be done?). One particular moment to illustrate my frustration is one in which we are given a hint by the text “why are you up there, why don’t you come down?” and both characters are on the upper level and frankly, spatially it makes no sense: within that scene, nor in relation to the audience.
This could be a really interesting play and production: and perhaps it will find its rhythm over the run and infront of large bustling audiences: one person in the audience was chuckling throughout.. which should be taken as a good sign that it will change with the crowd.

There are plenty of fantastic juicy and difficult concepts to wrestle with: would/should you save one and sacrifice the group (or vice versa), what is the power of instruction? Who’s responsible if there is one person instructing a group? How prone are we to being told what to do? What is self preservation? What is the cost of sacrifice? What is the value of group guilt and grief? What is the value of silence? What is the value of violence? Wonderful fraught concepts not realised in this production.

That said, I really enjoyed Paul-William Mawhinney’s performance: I trusted him and admired him as Sarah Snook’s character- Leah – appeared to. I also enjoyed the duet moments between Mark ( Stephen Anderson – whom I have enjoyed in a show I saw last year at The New Theatre) and Jan (Augusta Miller who I saw in Gallipoli in her final NIDA year). (I shall watch how the reviews receive this one as I think Kevin Jackson may have something to say about the shininess of Kit Brookman’s hair). I would also like to observe that a voracious promiscuous character that loves violence is less interesting to me than a reserved and meek character who finds violence compelling: these slight character and costume choices say alot.