One of the thrills of being a reviewer is that often you will get to see young actors in the early stages of their career and I was lucky enough to have such an experience at the Brockley Jack Theatre with a performance of “DNA” by the Broken Hearted Youth Company.
The play was preceded by “Callum” a short film by the same company. Directed by Michael van de Put,“Callum” tells the story of a boy, played superbly by James Tarpey, who has lost his girlfriend in horrendous circumstances at Honor Oak Park Station. It is a very moving and emotional piece and I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but would recommend you visit the BHT website (http://brokenheartedyouth.com/) where you can watch it for yourself, or better still, go to the theatre and see the film followed by the play “DNA”.
“DNA” takes place in a nice park where a mixed group of school-friends hang out. Mark (Joseph Cocklin) and Jan (Alice Harding) are walking through the park discussing something horrific that has happened there. Also in the park are Leah (Rachel Hinds) and her boyfriend Phil (Francis Lovehall), It’s talking deeply. I say talking, but in fact it is Leah who is having the conversation and Phil is just sitting there. It’s obvious that this is nothing out of the ordinary for this couple as Leah tries all sorts of linguistic tricks to get something from her reticent man, all to no avail. In another part of the park John (Josef Kaplicky), the ‘leader’ is discussing some event with other members of the group – Danny (Joseph Ackerman), Lou (Chezzney Clarke), Brian (Simon Every), Richard (Romario Splatt) and Cathy (Daisy Wood). John is a bully and has achieved his ‘position’ by creating a climate of fear amongst his followers but, right now, he is unsettled by the event that has occurred. The group are joined by Mark, Jan, Leah and Phil, and we find out exactly what has happened as they take turns in telling the tale of a school-kid prank involving a desperate wannabe member of the group, Adam (James Tarpey) that has gone too far. The group are panicking, especially John and Brian, and have no idea what to do now to ensure their survival. At this point Phil moves up a gear and with an ability to slice through the various parts of the story – like a first class surgeon wielding a razor sharp scalpel – comes up with a plan that will ensure the safety of them all and bind them all together forever. The gang rally round, put Phil’s plan into action and it succeeds brilliantly. But then Phil finds any plan fool-proof until the foolish get involved as Cathy decides to show some initiative and does something that could endanger them all. Luckily, Phil is a master strategist who can adapt and overcome all obstacles that appear in his path – going to extreme lengths if need be to protect not only the secret but the covering-up of the secret itself.
Written by Dennis Kelly, “DNA” is a really dark play with enough lighter moments – such as Danny’s insistence he cannot get involved as he is going to be a dentist – to ensure the audience isn’t totally overwhelmed by the horror of these children and the depths they are willing to plummet to protect ‘the group’ even at the expense of losing one or two individuals on the way. This is a play where it does no good to try and think too far ahead as an audience member. Three times I was convinced I knew what was coming up and three times I was completely blind-sided by what actually occurred. If that isn’t the sign of good writing, I’m not sure what is.
Directors Laurence Chater and Michael van de Put have made excellent use of the Brockley Jack’s stage area to create the woodland park for the group to inhabit and have drawn out some wonderful performances from their talented young cast. I loved the way that Mark and Jan were a virtual Greek Chorus setting up each scene with their fast-paced dialogue beautifully delivered by Joseph and Alice. Rachel Hinds’ is probably going to be up for the next ‘Most Irritating Girlfriend on the Planet’ award and will win hands down. Simon Every has to be commended for his portrayal of Brian as he descends from someone perceived by Phil to be the perfect ‘victim’ through to a child-like glee in being allowed to play games with the psychotic Cathy – brilliantly portrayed by Daisy Wood.
Saving the best until last, Francis Lovehall’s performance as Phil was outstanding. When with Leah, he takes the image of the ‘strong, silent type’ to extreme but, when called upon, he takes control of the group with lightning speed, his powerful mind formulating a ‘fool-proof’ plan within seconds of being appraised of the situation. Issuing his orders like a general on a battlefield – his authority never really being questioned – Phil is the model of a strategist. Even when having to adjust his plan due to the incompetence of others, Phil isn’t phased as he takes things to a darker level and establishes a connection with Cathy that he could never have with Leah. Cold and ruthless, Phil is one guy you really would not want to get on the wrong side of and Francis is scaringly convincing in this role.
Overall, “DNA” is an excellently crafted play that has been extremely well staged by the Broken Hearted Youth Company who bring every ounce of their youth and enthusiasm to the show, delivering a first rate theatrical evening to a grateful audience.
Review by Terry Eastham
There’s a dark secret in the woods.
A teenage game gets out of hand, and now there’s hell to pay.
But who will fit the bill?
As things spiral out of control a modern day morality tale unfolds.
Broken Hearted Youth present Dennis Kelly’s DNA. First performed by the National Theatre, this haunting modern drama is now an established text on the GCSE syllabus. … What have we done, Phil?
This production is preceded by the screening of Broken Hearted Youth’s award winning short film, Callum.
Venue: Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
Dates: Tuesday 14 to Saturday 25 April 2015
Performances at 7.45pm
Suitable for 14+