“Where do I come from?” is a question that quite a few people consider fairly vital. It makes sense then, that this question might be vital not only when it comes from human beings. What about when it is asked by a work of art?
This question and its many interpretations seem to be what inspired Louisa Hollway, director of DNA, the St Catz Garden Show. It is a dark comedy by Dennis Kelly (who will attend the Thursday performance and be hosting a Q&A afterwards) and will be staged in 4th Week (25th–28th May).
The play is about a group of teenagers who do something bad. Apparently it’s not just bad – it’s really, really bad. The play is also about how they panic and try to cover the whole thing up and about what this does to their fractious lives. At its heart, it deals with an uncomfortable question – what is the worst thing you can think of doing as an adolescent?
Louisa says that she was tired (and undoubtedly, many will identify with her) with the way plays in Oxford sometimes tend to become more about sets and lighting than raw substance. And her vision and motivation for DNA is to attempt to take things back to the basics. This idea of back to the basics is really the mantra in more ways than one – not only does the play rely simply on the story and cast, it also has forced the actors to try and lose the inhibitions picked up over the past half-decade and struggle to return to a time when intimacy, life and fear meant different things entirely. When that did not seem like enough, Louisa asked them to watch videos on chimpanzees and then interact with each other as chimps and work their way up to 5-year-old children and then to adolescents.
The rehearsals so far have stressed improvisation, physicality and making the actors aware of how they felt at every stage and thus on discovering their characters rather than confusing themselves with poorly fabricated ideas of these characters. This is arguably in order to indicate a belief that theatre should be about more than simply what people turn up to watch on the day of the performance. It’s a quiet and powerful idea that is also humble and shy and deserves more attention than it receives.
Do I know what this play will ultimately look like? I have not a clue. But then again, that might not always be the point.