DANTI-DAN
Hampstead Theatre, London NW3
Opened 13 June, 1995

It seems that playwright Richard Cameron has a long-lost sister. Actress Gina Moxley's first play Danti-Dan with its sexually awakening youngsters in a dead-end small town, its devious manipulator and its tragic innocent, its undertow of sentimental nostalgia deliberately undermined by hard comedy is set in early Cameron territory transferred from South Yorkshire to Co. Cork.

In the heat of the summer of 1970, as they kill time by the village monument, Moxley's five teenage characters find their respective sexualities flowering at different rates. Sixteen-year-old Ber is pregnant by her amiable wastrel boyfriend, while her 14-year-old sister Dolores is running to keep up with her younger friend, the brazen and amoral Cactus. Caught in the crossfire is Dan, a 14-year-old with a functioning age of eight: in his cowboy hat and twin holster, he would rather take down car numbers and dream of the Wild West, until Cactus unfeelingly sets to work upon his young mind in order to avail herself of his older body.

In Lynne Parker's production for her Rough Magic company, Dan is even more of an outsider: Alan King, in shorts and satchel, looks less plausibly his character's age than any of his fellows, lending Dan an air of Blue Remembered Hills absurdity. Partly because of this, the sympathy beneath the comedy becomes obscured and the sudden, savage denouement fails to bring off its intended shock effect. However, Sophie Flannery's Cactus is a fine creation: sharp-tongued, single-minded and shameless, impatient to try on a set of grown-up genes, her recklessness drives the play. Flannery's comic strengths are best shown in her double-act scenes with Dolores Eileen Walsh in her professional début, whose gawky facial expressions and talent for stealing moments lend her an astonishing resemblance to comedian Sean Hughes.

If the backbone of the play is the well-worn "puberty blues" theme, its muscle and sinew are provided by the persistent humour. Every Irish writer whose characters have even a trace of brash young cynicism must by now be fed up with being compared with Roddy Doyle, but it is a useful shorthand. Moxley's Cork is a more gentle environment than Doyle's Barrytown, but no warmer or more hopeful the sort of place where "if you lost your virginity, somebody would find it and bring it home to your mother," as Ber remarks.

At bottom Danti-Dan has no pretensions to being a sensitive exploration of hormones in bloom: it's a simple teenage comedy, and judged by its own lights it is a small gem.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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