Review – DNA, Final Year Actors at the University of Northampton, Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, 7th June 2018

DNAFor the first time, the Final Year Actors at Northampton University have been invited to present their plays in London, at the Jacksons Lane Theatre in Highgate, which is an exciting opportunity to be seen in the Capital City with all its obvious attractions (although performing on the stage of the Royal in Northampton is not to be sneezed at either).

Jason Pile as AdamThe first of these plays is DNA, a one-act play by Dennis Kelly, that originally saw light of day as part of a National Theatres Connections season. It’s a smart, surprising and rather disturbing play where a group of teenagers commit an act of atrocity on another teenager, with apparently disastrous consequences. How far will they go to cover up their crime, and, after multiple lies and deceits, does there come a time simply to stop digging?

Tiffany Mae RiversI must be honest, gentle reader; at first, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this. The play started with some artistic movement where all the cast loomed and merged together from different parts of the stage for some significant meaning that totally passed me by. Whilst I appreciate the skill, it didn’t (for me) add to the story-telling or character-understanding in any way. The older I get, the more I feel that life is too precious to waste. Just get on with the play!

Maddy OgedengbeAnd then the early parts of the play itself seemed rather difficult for the audience to get a grip on what was going on, and I was feeling a little frustrated at the rather stagey, unnatural speech patterns. But then, after a short time, everything just clicked into place. The play, through this eloquent and revealing production, offers an alarming insight into pack mentality and the abuse that can exist between friends – both physical and mental.

Amelia RenardRunning throughout the play is a central storyline of the needy relationship between Leah and Phyl, who’s clearly the boss of the outfit. Leah constantly seeks Phyl’s approval, her input, her recognition; and Phyl delights in refusing to acknowledge her at all. In the end, Leah cannot take this any more and so packs her bags and escapes; and the final scene shows Phyl, sans Leah, still tight-lipped, but no longer through dominance, but through a sad emptiness. Tiffany Mae Rivers gives a stunning performance as the garrulous Leah, burbling and murfling her way through life, filling every silence with needy drivel; and Maddy Ogedengbe is excellent as the stony-faced, insolent Phyl, buttering her waffles with controlling cruelty. The whole play balances on this relationship and it works superbly well.

Zoe ElizabethThe whole cast put in a great ensemble effort, but I particularly enjoyed the upstart rivalry to the Phyl regime offered by Zoe Elizabeth as Rikki, the “good girl” frustration of Amelia Renard’s Danni who sees her prospect of dental training going up in smoke, and Georgi McKie’s belligerent Lou. Big credit to Katie Lawson for taking over the role of Bryony at short notice and making the character chillingly unhinged.

Georgi McKieThis is a play where the characters’ thoughts run away with themselves before their mouths have the chance to catch up with them; as a result there are lots of half-formulated sentences, and phrases left hanging in the air. It’s a tough job to make them sound convincing and natural but the cast did an excellent job of conveying the flow of concentration whilst still making it sound sense.

I thoroughly enjoyed this production and thought everyone did sterling work! Congratulations to all.

Review – Out of Shot, Periscope Theatre, Flash Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year Acting Students, Castle Hill, Northampton, 26th April 2018

Flash FestivalIt goes without saying the domestic abuse is an appalling crime. What is it that can turn a strong, loving husband and wife unit into a minefield of violence and cruelty, both physical and mental. Each partner can accuse the other of all sorts of despicable acts, but if a secret video could be set up, to capture what actually happens between the two of them, that would be proof positive to identify the guilty party. Wouldn’t it? Maybe sometimes it’s what happens out of shot that is the more revealing.

Out of ShotPeriscope’s gripping little thriller is an intense and terrifying play involving the investigations of PC Robinson into the allegations of domestic abuse at the home of Siena and Andrew. We see the happy early days, where Andrew’s sister Emily is the unconventional Best Man toasting the married couple good luck on their wedding day. We see them move into their new place and create a home together. But it’s not long till the neighbour can hear the arguments through the walls; the raised voices, the indeterminate threats. The neighbour offers Siena a safe sanctuary where she can escape the terror of domestic abuse.

Gracia Stewart-HoggExcept that she’s got it wrong. It’s Siena who’s abusing Andrew; and the moment we see her hurling him on the floor is a fantastic coup de theatre that takes your breath away. It’s she who demands that he gives her all his income, so that he has to beg for a little change to get through the week. It’s she who refuses him permission to see his family or his friends. It’s she who rings in sick for him at work, even though he wants to go. It’s she who humiliates and mentally castrates him. It’s she who delivers the blood curdling screams – not of fear, but of intimidation, as she knocks him out, kicks him in the crotch and leaves him a bloody mess on the floor.

Robert BarnesBut in interview, she’s all sweetness and light; feigning kindness towards him because he’s stressed at work, or maybe drinks a little too much; and his protestations of innocence just sound way too far-fetched to be believable. Fortunately there’s the video evidence to show exactly what happened….or is that just an elaborate charade, choreographed for the police’s benefit?

Zoe ElizabethGracia Stewart-Hogg gives a superb and, frankly, terrifying performance as Siena, her steely eyes penetrating her victim’s failing mental stability so that he doesn’t know how to react, her unhinged shrieking used as both an attack and defence mechanism, her vicious assaults creating pain and injury. It’s so easy for the casual onlooker simply to question, why did he put up with it, but Robert Barnes is also brilliant at conveying the reasons why Andrew stayed. Primarily he still loved her and wanted to help her through what he would have hoped to be a temporary mental illness on her part. I have to say, my heart went out to him! Zoe Elizabeth takes the other roles and is particularly impressive in the part of Andrew’s irreverent sister Emily, trying to put her finger on exactly what is wrong with the relationship; and as the firm but not entirely fair police officer.

A scary play that would make you very nervous about committing to a relationship! I hope Mr Barnes wore lots of padding.