Thursday night sees the opening of DNA, a black comedy by Dennis Kelly, at the Assembly Rooms. First Person Theatre Company are bringing this intriguingly macabre and humorous play to Durham with a cast and production team destined for success. DNA follows the disturbing tale of a case of bullying taken too far. The aftermath leaves those involved reeling, one character being driven to madness, and all having to make difficult choices. Yet, despite the plot, the play is fundamentally comic.
The unique style of the play offers something for everyone; whether you are looking for amusing entertainment or something more probing, DNA is well worth a viewing. It is a “superbly told story,” said Director Adam Usden, and can be watched with any level of intellectual engagement. There is no need to bludgeon the audience with dogmatic morality, he joked, when a well-written play can speak for itself. And the words will undoubtedly be the focus. Usden, who had just come back from a trip to the woods, revealed that the set will be very natural. He explained that he didn’t want it to be overly stylised as the writing itself is free, with people speaking over one another and interrupting each other. Though this gives the dialogue an improvised and natural effect, this is simply an illusion.
The artistry of the play lies in its elaborately detailed construction. There is “no pause for breath essentially in the whole story,” said Usden. And the seemingly effortless dialogue in reality demands perfection in cuing. The timing is crucial, explained the director, and as such the actors’ performances must be incredibly polished.
Running at 1 hour 10 mins with no interval, this quick-paced play is given the chance to build and build in tension. With twists right to the end, it will captivate the audience to the last scene.
The play also gives the actors the chance to demonstrate their true potential. Not set in a foreign country or earlier époque, the cast are unhindered by the pressure to mimic accents: an aspect that can unfortunately ruin a performance, no matter how good the material. In this case the actors are freer to meld with their characters, which promises to make for a more realistic and, by association chillingly comic, play. The freedom in acting found in this style was of particular importance to the director when he was choosing between plays for, like other talented Durham theatre participants, many of the cast are going on to perform in professional theatre upon graduation.
The cast have been using an interesting range of improvisation techniques to explore the depths of their characters. They filmed an improvised trailer in a playground and alley in Durham to escape the constrictions of the stage. It was felt that this off-set activity truly sparked the relationship between actor and character. Usden commented that it was “scary playing the gang mentality,” especially as the actors began to mirror their counterparts more and more whilst they attempted to outdo each other in being the most terrifying. That twisted sense of horror diluted by comedy will draw the actors and audience alike into the personas of victims and bullies during the play.
DNA will be showing at the Assembly Rooms at 7.30pm this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets will cost £6, £5 (student) or £4.50 (DST). Both disturbing and humorous, the play has the potential to offer something much more exciting than the average Durham production.
The trailer can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/dst/show.php?show=799