DNA & Extremism double bill

Extremism

To kick-start the Year 11 double bill, the first cast of students explored the very current topic of terrorism in Anders Lustgarten’s play Extremism.

The play follows a group of students who are left alone in their classroom after their teacher calls the police to take one of their number, Jamal, away, in accordance with the government’s Prevent policy. Shocked and suspicious, the students begin to respond with changes in their behaviour towards one another.

The cast seamlessly captured the madness of extremism through their exploration of the characters’ increasing cruelty. Rachel (played by Sasha Ecclestone) and Melina (Farrah Ziv-Guest) were the leaders of this behaviour, and both actors conveyed the toxic mixture of nastiness tinged with extremism really well. Their actions were at times sickening, yet carried out with vigour.

Teenage bullying by other characters mirrored the cruelty that the authorities were opposing on minorities; cyber-bullying, for example, highlighting the theme of injustice, when Jordan (Hugo Lagergren) sent a nude photo of Rachel to the school. Olivia Scott-Smith as Suhayla perfectly captured the anguish of the outsider, with the character’s pain revealed by her desperation to defend herself from oppression by the more powerful characters.

The cast’s ensemble work expertly created tension and captured the descent into violence. When Rachel and Melina removed Suhayla’s hijab without her consent, the play hit a climax, with shouting and force creating an extremely uncomfortable environment that was difficult for the audience to watch. The sudden interruption of Samuel (Max Sabin), which silenced the characters, was immensely powerful.

Set in the round, with books and desks populating the stage, the set allowed audience members to feel like they were there in the classroom from the get-go.

The cast gave an excellent performance, creating an atmosphere of tension pervaded with a sense of foreignness, and keeping the audience engrossed throughout. They were able to create an incredibly uncomfortable atmosphere, and the play’s political themes were very thought-provoking.

DNA

As the second part of the Year 11 double bill, we saw in Dennis Kelly’s play DNA the consequences of how a teenage joke can go badly wrong.

Also set in the round, the audience members were allowed an intimate view into the lives of a group of teenagers abruptly forced to change when Jude (played by Jude Vyas), the subject of brutal bullying, is suspected to be dead.

An interesting aspect of the show was the way in which each character’s reaction to the death was explored. We saw how personal responsibility of a peer’s death can really affect one’s mental health through Cameron (played by Cameron Delpech) and his subsequent diagnosis and prescription to medications. The responses of other characters, Imogen (played by Imogen Salmon), Valery (Valery Bogdanova) and Katerina (played by Katerina Panayiotou), perfectly encapsulated how people respond differently to such events.

The cast delivered the often challenging lines with true emotion. Dennis Kelly’s use of repetition and constant interruption was used to full effect, with the cast producing a natural, lifelike impression of how teenagers speak. The ensemble scenes and duologue scenes really pushed the tension as the characters showed regret and remorse for their behaviour towards Jude. In the ensemble scenes, the control exerted by Alice (played effectively by Alice McQuail), created a powerful image of how scared the group were, not only of what they had done, but also of being found out, and illustrated how the death shook up existing group dynamics and hierarchies.

Despite being centred around a tragic and shocking event, the play was still delivered with comedic aplomb, with the dark comedy lighting up the increasing tension created by the events explored on stage. This was a natural and convincing performance by the cast of Year 11 students.

Mia Hart, Lower Sixth 

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