To stage two plays about adolescent angst, peer-group pressure, bullying, depression, the whole teenage package of dopamine-overkill disorders, is a brave choice at this tinselly time of year, traditionally the season of school nativity pageantry. Yet, this is the culmination of a term’s work, planning and preparation for which began way back in September – and it is right that a modern urban cautionary message is also heard at this emotive time when collective jollifications often intensify individual suffering.
Dennis Kelly’s self-consciously shocking play, DNA, the Year Ten Drama set-text, pulls no punches in striking to the very heart of the darkly warped world of a group of feral teenagers. They are persuaded by their leader, Phil, to forensically cover up the accidental death of Adam (Anisia Fedotova). Bullied to his death, he appears from time to time, like the bloodied ghost of Banquo, to haunt them. Phil is played superbly by Jeremy Normanton making us agonise over whether we are witnessing barely hidden psychopathy or merely a geeky organiser responding to dire exigency.
An ensemble piece, ideal for school study, it allowed the individual actors to showcase their talents while performing enough of it, under the taut and imaginative direction of their teacher, Mrs Jeeves, to give the appreciative audience a flavour of a shockingly immersive, wholly cathartic experience. Perhaps the greatest achievement was that each of the characters exuded an individually personal menace – high marks for differentiation here – and there were some outstanding performances from Olivia Archer, Connie Bradwell Moore, Harry Brindley, Olivia Coates, Justine Guan, Bailey Guan, Declan Pattinson,Stephanie Sinko and Beau Taylor.
Special praise, however, should undoubtedly go to Year 11 student Lola Wilson and Year 10 Connie Bradwell Moore who both stepped in at the last minute (literally the morning of the performance). Lola gave much physical expression to the deranged Brian, giggling with gleeful cruelty.
Year Nine had begun the evening’s entertainment with a short play of their own devising and scripting which appeared not to have been given a name but might have been calledConsequences. It formed part of the ‘devised drama’ work being done in Drama classes with Miss Johnson, on a theme no less menacing, inspiring a performance no less riveting.
Joe Salt is ideally cast as Joe Salt, the needy boy, the archetypal red-headed butt of humour and victim of carelessly casual bullying which, unchecked, eventually escalates with dire consequences. This honest Joe, this salt of the earth, does not deserve the hurtful slights that initially come his way, still less what happens later, and he finds no help from his culpably naïve Maths teacher (Cameron Beeforth-Miller), who is all too ready to side with the bullies, giving himself less stress that way than tackling them head on.
The hapless boy gets no help either from his parents (Ola Elhawary and JJ Coates). Yet, willing to the end, he keeps coming back and putting a brave face on it – and, tragically, keeps getting slapped down again. Year Nine have in their number some highly promising emergent talent, seen not least in the motley crew of fellow pupils, played by Eve Harrison, Ellie Monteith, Berta Balcells Baldo, Arda Gunes, Isabella Hinchliffe, Emie-May Burnett.
This was an entertaining evening, very moving and immensely rewarding for all engaged in it or privileged to see it. Anyone who has ever been involved in any capacity with a school drama production will appreciate the staggering amount of effort, sweat and tears that goes in to it. Everyone involved with this deserves immense praise. While bestowing it, we must not forget the sterling work in the lighting box done by Josh Martyn-Johns and Giorgi Kvaratskhelia and the support of Year 12 drama students along with Megan Emblin in Year 13. It should not go without saying that, above all, thanks must go to the Head of Drama, Mrs Jeeves, and to the indefatigable Miss Johnson, who even on the morning of the production was seen scurrying around, jumping on and off stage, making last-minute arrangements.
At a time when surveys are suggesting that in the past decade diagnosis of clinical depression and anxiety among teenagers has markedly increased and they are more vulnerable than ever to bullying, especially of the cyber variety, it is good that drama productions of this kind can sharpen our awareness of the problems, especially in this season of goodwill.
Teacher of English