Following last year’s teenage-centric triptych Burn/Chatroom/Citizenship, the National Theatre’s Connections programme continues its commitment to presenting theatre for and about teenagers with this trio of new plays which address teen pregnancy, bullying, murder and lack of hope. At the first night of Baby Girl/DNA/The Miracle, Caroline Bishop found them surprisingly funny.
Three very diverse stories, three glimpses into the lives of teenagers, albeit very different ones, are presented in these plays by Roy Williams, Dennis Kelly and Lin Coghlan, with a cast that plays multiple characters across the trio.
Williams’s play Baby Girl centres on Kelle, a 13-year-old schoolgirl who is taunted at school for being a virgin. In order to prove everyone wrong, Kelle sleeps with the school nerd, Nathan, and finds herself pregnant. What is both shocking and poignant is the normality of the situation, as Williams depicts it. Kelle’s mum Sam had her daughter at 13 and now finds herself about to be a grandmother at 26. Kelle’s best friend Danielle is sleeping with Nathan’s older brother Richie, who, at just 17, already has three kids by three different mothers. This set of characters effectively shows the path Kelle’s life will take as a result of her mistake. But these consequences do not dawn on Kelle and Danielle at first, instead they consider being pregnant as almost fashionable, and a baby as simply “something to cuddle”. Their lack of shock at what is obviously a regular occurrence amongst their friends is shocking in itself. But, as her bump grows, so the weight of Kelle’s predicament dawns on her, illustrated by Williams in Richie’s baby-lumbered ex-girlfriend, and Sam, who struggles between maternal duty and the normal social desires of a 26-year-old.
While the problems Williams addresses in Baby Girl seem to belong to a working class environment, Kelly presents a more middle class social strata in his play DNA, which is no less problematic. Creepy, dark, yet weirdly funny, it follows a group of teenage kids (older than Kelle and friends) who have been bullying fellow schoolboy Adam in that middle class way of taunts and dares, rather than physical abuse. But the bullying goes wrong: Adam has an accident and is presumed dead. Panicked, the group calls on eccentric loner Phil, known for his intelligence, to concoct a reason for Adam’s disappearance.
In the form of a teen thriller, Kelly’s play aptly shows the consequences of group bullying, though hopefully in a story that is exaggerated past reality. The dark thread of the tale is offset by the funny, one-sided friendship between Phil and motormouth Lea, who over-analyses life at 10 words a second while her frustratingly disinterested sidekick remains silent.
Ruby Bentall, who plays Lea, displays her subtle comic talents once more in Coghlan’s The Miracle, in which she plays schoolgirl Ron, who believes she has been endowed with healing powers after a statue of a saint washed up in her bedroom following a flood. While the adults don’t believe her (with the exception of her Irish earth-mother), teenagers risk the mocking of their peers by coming to Ron for help. Touchingly, whether she has special powers or not, Ron gives hope to those who don’t have much – including serial car-jacker Barry and angst-ridden returning soldier Lorenzo.
With these three plays the National creates a varied evening that is disturbing, engaging and entertaining. What’s more, it displays the acting talent of a host of newcomers we should hope to see again in the future.
Baby Girl/ DNA/ The Miracle run in the Cottesloe until 12 March.