Chris Cannell reviews DNA, written by Dennis Kelly and directed by Lizzie Milne, which went up in the Barron Theatre on the 23rd and 24th of October.

DNA exists to replicate itself, to be repeated, to continue its line. The oldest definition of madness—or at least the one so often quoted as to have become a trope—is that insanity is repeating the same action over and again and expecting different results. DNA, however, is not a play that repeats any old ideas; it is one that comes from a fresh perspective with some outstanding acting and a sense of what makes good theatre.  DNA is a play, at its heart, about repetition, and, just perhaps, what constitutes madness.

Things start innocently enough. Images of James Dean, Holly Golightly, Muse, and Michael Fassbender (the things and people teenage girls are likely to venerate) adorned the stage’s backdrop. Soon though, the fragmented nature of the psyches of the girls, shown by the ripped up and myriad backdrop and the excellent soundtrack choice, is revealed. The first line starts the action: “She’s dead.” And we run from there. A girl is murdered in the woods at the hands of the portrayed gang and something has to be done.  The solution comes in the form of Meg, a female proto-Iago, with nebulous motivation. Her placement throughout the play at the back on a riser compliments her place as the failing puppet master.

 

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To single out any one performance from the incredibly strong ensemble is difficult, but props must be given Carla Van Der Sluijs as Meg, whose strange eating habits, thousand-yard stare, and phenomenal economy of voice must be praised. She carried off the part with such aplomb that the rather intentionally thin web of sanity she wove around the other characters sustained itself throughout the play. ??That madness became a theme reflecting the overarching feeling of a sort of Foucauldian view of innocence.  The directorial decision to change from the mixed gender cast of the original text to an all female one led to, at the risk of exposing the reviewer to broadsides, some slightly shrieky moments, but these had a place. The balance of innocence and experience (embodied by the character of Leah, Coco Claxton with strange, but phenomenally powerful, intonation), or the slim dichotomy of morality and necessity that makes the play so reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, leads to some of the girls’ unbalancing.

 

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The end of the play involves the fallout of their necessary actions, and the remaining characters on stage dealing with the morality of their actions—finally sectioning one of their own members as a scapegoat (Cate Kelly as Beth, the holy madman)—in order to reassert their own rationality and morality.

Leah’s monologue, with a simplicity of schoolbook learning about life on other planets, emphasises the repetition that this process will undergo, played out as an eternal dialectic in the DNA of every living thing; between the ingenuousness of youth, and the horror of growing up into a realisation of samsara.  This will repeat itself over and over and over, and, just perhaps, as in this excellent performance, create some great art. Otherwise, it might just lead to madness.

 

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Chris Cannell

 

Photo credits: Iain Milne