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DNA BY DENNIS KELLY - HULL TRUCK TOURING - Royal Exchange Studio, Manchester

Published by: Caroline May on 21st Mar 2012 | View all blogs by Caroline May
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The National Theatre’s Connections programme commissions ten new plays every year for a week of performances by youth groups all round the country.  The authors are among the best currently writing for the stage, and the resulting work is enough to make any adult theatre-goer green with envy: short, sharp pieces with strong themes, dynamic characters and gripping storylines. 

Originally written for NT Connections in 2007, DNA fulfils all the above expectations, and has the additional recommendation of being created by Dennis Kelly (co-writer of sitcom Pulling and the RSC’s award-winning new musical Matilda).  And although Hull Truck’s professional tour is presumably aimed at schools who are studying this as a set-text, there’s plenty to satisfy a discerning older audience.

The story is about a school bullying incident that gets out of hand, the perpetrators’ attempts at a cover-up, and the unimaginable consequences.

Dennis Kelly doesn’t mess about with mundane matters or patronise his teenage protagonists with anodyne choices: the stakes are the highest they can possibly be, and just when you think the students’ world has already been shaken to its foundations a macabre twist racks up the tension.

Played in front of impressionistic film projections with a funky soundtrack, the young cast grip their even younger audience throughout, though I was less enamoured by the recurring one-sided conversations between enigmatic woolly-hatted Phil (James Alexandrou) and the besotted Leah (Leah Brotherhead).

Tom Clegg is a great comic turn as the aspiring dentist Danny, and Daniel Francis-Swaby’s lachrymose Brian metamorphoses hilariously into a blissed-out leaf-licker after being put on medication for stress.  And I wish I could have seen more of the group’s alpha-male John Tate (Rhys Jennings in a very convincing performance).

With all the guilty pleasure of a genre film and enough plot to fill a five-act Jacobean tragedy, DNA makes you wish that every new play could be commissioned for a teen audience.

DNA is on until Saturday 24 March 2012 and touring
Prices: £10 (£7 concs)
Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm
Matinees: Wed & Thurs @ 2.30, Sat @ 4pm
Box Office: 0161 833 9833
www.royalexchange.co.uk

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