I couldn't understand why the language in Dennis Kelly's DNA was so clean. It's about teenagers after all. It jarred. Didn't feel natural. There was no slang, no swearing, very little teen vernacular. It was too clean. Then afterwards I read that it is a school set text. The penny dropped.
The result is a play that is bursting with issues to discuss - 'is one bad act OK if it is for the benefit of a whole group?' is the central moral conundrum but one that doesn't quite pack the right punches in it's performance. In essence I didn't find all the characters convincing enough because they felt constrained by squeaky dialogue.
James Alexandrou of Eastenders fame headlines the cast and is a commanding presence primarily because he goes for long periods without speaking, preferring to eat various snacks and sweets in an imaginative or just plain meditative fashion. This normally takes place while a girl called Leah (Leah Brotherhead) is wittering on trying to engage him in conversation in a borderline irritating fashion.
She reminded me of Miss Bates in Jane Austen's Emma who goes on and on and as a consequence no one listens but if they did they might actually learn something interesting. Except, I was in the Emma et al camp and I switched off so if she did say anything interesting I missed it. I was watching Phil methodically unwrapping and laying out a whole packet of Chewits ready to eat. (Surely the West End Whingers would approve of the amount of food eaten on stage in such a short play: tangerine, packet of crisps, Chewits and a waffle carefully, very carefully, dotted with strawberry jam.)
I digress. When a gang of teens lands themselves in serious trouble - an initiation ceremony that goes too far - it's the silent, brooding Phil they turn to for help. When Phil speaks, they listen because every word counts. He's given it thought.
But it comes back to the script. I've since learned that there is an alternative text for older audiences which is a little more colourful and I wish I'd seen that. Perhaps I've just seen too much Philip Ridley recently because although it came close a few times it never fully developed the tension and punch the subject matter truly deserved.
DNA is certainly an interesting piece of drama but maybe one more suited to the school audience at which it is primarily aimed. I'm going to give it three and a half stars. DNA runs at the lovely, apart from the incredibly uncomfortable seats, Unicorn Theatre until April 28.