In Dennis Kelly’s brilliant but unsettling play, first shown in 2007, a gang of teenagers have killed their childhood friend Adam. They are scared and they want to cover their tracks, so they pin the murder on an imaginary person. But some are more excited by the situation than others: it feels “better than ordinary life”, says Cathy. As they argue, panic and descend into ever more elaborate lies, Kelly paints an alarming picture of how easily events can spiral out of control. “I think that there are such things in the world as truly good people and truly bad people but they are tiny percentages,” Kelly once said. “The rest of us are just somewhere in the big grey area in the middle.”
It is not clear where or when the play is set — but it is clear from the contemporary language that the characters are modern British teenagers. They seem to be the manifestation of society’s ideas about immoral, nihilistic young people. Is it a fair representation?
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It is not much of a stretch to say that the characters have communication issues. Leah spends most of her scenes with her boyfriend Phil trying to command his attention, while he eats and ignores her. It is only when she finally leaves him that he acknowledges her presence at all. Have we lost our ability to understand each other?
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“Chimps are evil. They murder each other … they kill and sometimes torture each other to find a better position within the social structure,” says Leah, as she is trying to gain Phil’s attention. Have humans outgrown their closest evolutionary relatives?
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“We were having a laugh,” insist Mark and Jan as they recount their merciless — and ultimately deadly — treatment of Adam. Even after he has died, the two do not seem to realise that they have done anything wrong. Is bullying a universal problem?
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The group shifts its leaders throughout the play — and each time they get more amoral. And yet their actions also help to bring the group closer together. “I’m in charge,” says Phil. “Everyone is happier. What’s more important; one person or everyone?”
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