When analysing each of the characters in the play, it’s important to consider:
In a conversation with Phil, Leah lays out two models of social behaviour based on the animals who are closest to humans in their DNA. These are:
Dennis Kelly invites the audience to make comparisons between the characters and these two animals for their models of behaviour within a group, so this can inform your understanding of them.
Cruel, sociopathic, intelligent, scheming, and habitually snacking, Phil is most definitely chimp-like in his behaviour. It is he who coolly formulates the plan to hide their involvement in Adam’s death, and in doing so replaces John Tate as the leader of the gang.
He shows no remorse about framing an innocent man for the crime, remaining silent while others are panicking about this development.
It is Phil who insists that Adam, once he has reemerged, must be murdered for the protection of the group. Coldly, he explains:
“If he comes back our lives are ruined. He can’t come back.”
In the end, there are suggestions that even he has found the actions of the group too extreme. He detaches himself from the gang while Cathy advances the barbaric, violent mentality.
Leah is talkative, prone to pondering on existential issues such as the meaning of life, and craves attention and kindness.
As she states herself, she is more of a friendly bonobo by nature. She has empathy for others, including those on the outside of the group such as Adam and Brian. When the plan to murder Brian is being formulated, she attempts, in vain, to humanise Adam in Phil’s mind by saying:
“We used to go to his birthday parties, he used to have that cheap ice cream and we used to take the piss, remember?”Leah
However, Leah becomes drawn into more chimp-like, amoral behaviour. She kills her pet Jerry and initially goes along with Phil’s plans, even if she does worry about the consequences:
“We’re in trouble now, Phil. Don’t know how this’ll pan out.”Leah
Ultimately, she becomes so horrified by the group’s behaviour when Adam is murdered that she leaves the gang and moves to a new school.
Cathy is the character who rises to the top of the social structure at the end of the play due to being the most psychopathic character – even more so than Phil – in terms of her lack of empathy and remorse. Her willingness to carry out whatever actions are necessary in order to secure the survival of the group.
She gets a thrill out of Adam’s death, telling the group:
“It’s quite exciting… Better than ordinary life.”Cathy
She also thrives on the attention it brings to her, beaming that reporters want to interview her which would mean she could “get on the telly”.
Much to the shock of the many in the gang, she plants the DNA to deliberately frame a man who fits their false description of the kidnapper. She also instinctively understands that Adam must be murdered to protect the gang from trouble, and manipulates Brian into killing him.
She shows a growing thirst for violence, enticing Adam out of the hedge by threatening to “gouge one of his eyes out”. Brian comments:
“She loves violence now.”
Her ruthlessness allows her to become the leader at the end of the play, and we hear of her continuing her violent spree by chopping off the finger of a first-year student.
The leader at the beginning of the play, John asserts the ideals of the group and the strength that they have by being together. He tells Lou that being in the gang means while at school, “no one bothers you and if you want something it’s yours.”
However, his leadership is shown to be fragile. Firstly through being challenged by Richard, and then by his inability to take control of Adam’s disappearance with a clear plan.
He soon leaves the group, buckling under his guilt over Adam’s death and the innocent man being charged. It’s revealed at the end that he has found God and “joined the Jesus Army”, spending his time “singing and trying to give people leaflets”.
In the bullying environment of the group, Brian is an easy target and victim, as established by John Tate’s cruel address:
“You crying little piece of filth”
He is manipulated by the group firstly to report the false kidnapping to the police and to identify the suspect. After this, Brian is manipulated to carry out Adam’s murder under Cathy’s instructions.
His sanity quickly falls apart under the guilt and torment of the group’s bullying, demonstrated by his constant giggling and eating earth. At the end of the play, he is “on stronger and stronger medication” and is acting so strangely that Richard predicts he will soon be sectioned.
He goes missing, presumed dead, after several hours of physical and mental torture at the hands of Mark and Jan. This is done as a hazing ritual because he is always “hanging around” and wants to be a part of the group.
When he is rediscovered, he has lost his memory and knows nothing about himself apart from his name, symbolising how the extreme bullying has stripped him of his identity. He has survived in an animalistic way, living in a hedge and feeding off insects, leaves and a rabbit that he caught.
He is then murdered, at Phil’s order, to prevent the rest of the gang from getting into trouble for lying about his disappearance. This echoes what Leah says about chimp behaviour where an outsider to the group is often “hounded to death”.
In recalling Adam’s apparent death at the beginning of the play, Jan and Mark establish the gang’s violent and dangerous games. They explain the physical and mental torture they put Adam through, including how they “Stubbed cigarettes on him…Arms, hands, face” and “Made him run across the motorway.” They justify this by claiming that Adam enjoyed being the victim of such sadistic behaviour, and that “he was laughing” during it.
Their conversations open each act of the play, when they are worrying about a new development:
Richard reveals that they have become prolific shoplifters under Cathy’s rule, showing the continuation of their criminal behaviour.
Initially seen as a potential new leader, with John Tate feeling threatened by him after Lou identifies him as someone to be feared. He stands up to John Tate and exposes a potential weakness in the leader.
However, he soon falls away from contention when first Phil, and then Cathy, prove to be more dominant forces. He is shocked by Cathy’s actions that have caused an innocent man to be arrested, saying, “What we wanted was to cover up what had happened, not to frame someone else”.
At the end of the play, he is reluctantly under Cathy’s rule in the gang. He begs Phil to return, pointing to the greater harmony under his leadership.
Lou is pessimistic and feels certain that they will soon be caught for their crimes, repeating, “We’re screwed” after Cathy frames the innocent postman.
She suggests confessing what they have done rather than the postman going to prison, but no one in the group takes her up on this suggestion.
Lou follows whoever is the leader, becoming Cathy’s “best friend” at the end. Richard calls this a “Dangerous game” and comments “I feel sorry for Lou”.
Danny is ambitious to become a dentist, and his first thought when hearing of Adam’s death is to worry about the impact on his future career:
“dead people are not part of the plan, this is not dental college.”Danny
He doesn’t appear to have any moral objections to what they have done to Adam. Instead, he cares about how it will affect him if they are caught.
Unlike Lou, Danny does manage to escape the gang (temporarily at least); he goes off to do work experience in dentistry, though Richard says that he “hates it”.
|Still in the gang at the end of the play||No longer in the gang at the end of the play|
|Cathy – the leader||Phil – detaches himself, affected by the murder and Leah leaving him|
|Lou – Cathy’s sidekick||Leah – moves to a new school|
|Jan and Mark – have become shoplifters||John Tate – joins a religious order|
|Richard – shows dissatisfaction with Cathy’s leadership||Danny – doing work experience with a dentist|
|Brian – heavily medicated, may soon be sectioned|