DNA (review)

If Dennis Kelly has a handle on the youth of today then you have to fear for the future of mankind.

Tuesday, 15th May 2012, 2:04 pm

In his latest angst-filled drama, DNA, which ran for two nights at Watford Palace Theatre, the dialogue comes in snatches of repetitive words and half sentences, a jerky melange written for the Twitter generation where long exposition and conversations are consigned to the waste bin.

It’s a frighteningly depressing tale about a group of teenagers who cover up what they think is the murder of one of their own – only he isn’t and they haven’t. Adam has been the victim of bullying and abuse and finally someone oversteps the mark.

The lies they tell the police at the beginning grow alarmingly, and with considerable ease, ending up out of control with the innocent condemned and the guilty quite feeling guilt-free of the enormity of what they have done.

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It all seems a bit of a game to them. They get their names in lights for 15 minutes with a starring spot on the local news and in the papers. They seem completely unfazed by what they have done.

The teenagers cast aside what has happened – until they are shocked by an unexpected turn of events.

What does DNA say about teenagers today? I have to say that its central characters are almost certainly the product of a failed comprehensive education. They know more about how to cover-up a crime and corrupt forensic evidence, which has obviously come from watching too much CSI, than displaying any cultural skills derived from books.

But their stories and alibis would have been far more convincing and slickly conceived if they’d gone to a grammar or emerged from the private sector.

James Alexandrou (EastEnders’ Martin Fowler) plays the taciturn and deeply brooding ringleader, Phil. He sits silently throughout, munching his way through a variety of snacks, unable to relate or communicate with his babbling girlfriend Leah (whose verbal diarrhoea stretches everyone’s tolerance).

Occasionally he comes to life to steer the others through the DNA minefield they have laid in their bids to deflect blame. But it isn’t until the final moments that, in a display of emotion that is both shocking and revealing, we realise that while the others shrug off their collective guilt Phil has taken it and bottled it up inside him.

There’s some powerfully realistic performances from a young and inexperienced cast. Alexandrou is particularly effective in saying a lot while doing nothing more than eating a bag of crisps. His character is so dark and deep that he’s almost unfathomable.

Elexi Walker’s Cathy is disturbing, at times equating unspeakable violence with a career opportunity to get on the telly. The rest of the characters just give teenagers a bad name. Nevertheless a powerful and absorbing play. Catch it on tour.

ANNE COX