Review by Josh Lyons
DNA by Dennis Kelly
Presented by Tee-ball Ticket Theatre
Bert Hinkler Park, Silvester St. Windsor
Shows 7:30pm Thursday to Saturday until the 21st
Tee-ball Ticket Theatre presents DNA by Dennis Kelly, a gripping teen thriller set against a backdrop of good old fashioned Aussie bush. Oh, and it’s really funny too, did I mention that?
This production isn’t Tee-ball’s first rodeo (Anywhere Fest), and it definitely shows. Grabbing the metaphorical bull by its figurative horns, they take an established piece of contemporary text, throw in a dab of very black comedy and pull us into their world through the doorway of a particularly dark patch of bush out the back of Wilston. To enhance the already impressive ambience of the space, each of the 11 performers holds a torch, which serves as the entirety of the lighting during the show, casting shadows, concealing and revealing faces, and providing a truly unique theatrical experience.
And if that’s not what Anywhere Festival is all about then I don’t know what is.
As we were guided into the performance space by a Stage Manager with a torch, (it was very dark) given a quick safety briefing, (council property) and reminded to be respectful and aware of the spiritual and cultural significance of the land, the performers had already begun their work. Bullying chants and school uniforms give us two important entry points into the world. First, we know we’re dealing with teenagers. Second, we know that these teens aren’t going to be playing nice. As the audience settled down the ensemble set in, and their first step is to inform us that one of their number has died.
Cut to two of our more prominent characters, Leah and Felicity. Leah is rambling, something, we start to discover, that she does very well, and often. Felicity is silent. Eerie silent. Burn your house down and blame it on your cat silent. This dynamic (as well as the separation of the two types of scenes) is established, and, ultimately, extremely important to the progression of the story. It’s an effective tool in demonstrating the two concurrent storylines of the show: The group of 10 (later 11) girls who desperately try to keep their stories straight about the friend who they “accidentally” killed, and Leah and Felicity. Leah explores existentialism, her own sense of self, bonobos, her friendship with Felicity, humanity, and her slightly sociopathic tendencies, while Felicity remains quiet, but forges a more strong journey through her interactions with the group, where she is the schemer.
As their story is shaken, their “harmless” bullying turns more sinister and desperate, and the schemes go from lying to the world to something more reminiscent of what got them into this mess in the first place. There’s a few twists to watch out for too, just to keep you on your toes.
With killer themes, a darkly comedic edge, and robust and unique characters, the text itself is extraordinary. It effortlessly explores bullying, grief, group-think, mental-health problems and that perfect level of teenage angst that makes everything that bit more dramatic.
The cast work well together, and are generally strong. There were some moments when the tension is lost or dissipated because the actors aren’t grounded and respondent in the space, and this isn’t helped by the difficulties in using the torches. While they are mostly an effective device for the show, they did sometimes inhibit the performers, and sometimes use of them was a bit sloppy.
Particular credit is due to Acacia Rose, who played Leah, and handled an extraordinary amount of text, as well as some of the most difficult thought and mood changes I’ve ever seen, with relative smoothness. Props also to the actor who played Ana, whose wholesome approach to the character was very rewarding. But, it was the ensemble that shined the brightest, and the magnificence of the distinguished moments of group versus individual was a particularly strong facet of the production.
Overall, DNA was challenging, entertaining, and most certainly in the spirit of the Anywhere Festival. Simply seeing these brave young artists rising to the challenge is more than enough to justify going along, and the show’s more than worth the journey out too.