“Punk Rock” by Simon Stephens

at Warwick Arts Centre, 17th November 2010

Shootings in American schools, while horrible, seem to be a fairly frequent occurrence. Very rarely does a year go by without having had some gun-rampage-related story on the front covers, but they seem to be unique to the States. What would happen, therefore, if we were to experience such an event in the UK? Do our schools help children who seem to be on the edge, or simply ignore them? Sarah Frankcom’s production of Punk Rock is hard-hitting and shocking, but also allows Simon Stephen’s extraordinary account of everyday teenage life to shine through.

Set in the library of a Stockport public school, the play follows the intertwining stories of seven seventeen-year-olds. William is an oddball, whose wild imagination means he can’t differentiate between fact and fiction. Lily, the new girl, soon becomes ‘acquainted’ with Nicholas, Chadwick is the class swot and Tanya the stereotypical teenager. Sissy is going out with Bennett, the school bully. The group meets up between lessons in the library to study, amongst other things, but a series of events leads to a catastrophe.

The speech of the text mimics teenage parlance to the letter, and the constant talk of UCAS and popular culture is spot on. Within the mundanity however are some beautifully poetic moments, specifically from William, and Stephens’ careful structuring allow these to become pivotal. The awkwardness of teenage interaction is also captured perfectly, as no one is happy to speak their mind, causing even more tension than was already evident.

It must be said that the structuring of the play is somewhat conventional. The play starts with an introduction via a new member of the group, following onto moments of high tension in which minor problems occur but no one is essentially hurt, and then moving onto a high impact scene with obscene consequences before finishing with a one-to-one discussion. It is reminiscent of Laura Wade’s Posh, but the language and themes of the play allow it to differentiate itself from its predecessors.

The acting, although taking a while to pick up in the first act, is strong across the board. Rupert Simonian as William is clearly a troubled soul, but is still somewhat endearing despite the arrogance and Chadwick, played by Mike Noble, is shown to be suitably reserved, yet is the only sane member of the group. In the role of Bennett, Edward Franklin excels, revisiting in a way the character of Scott which he played in the Stephens’ play Herons at the 2009 National Student Drama Festival.

The imposing bookshelves, heavy with the weight of knowledge, contrast beautifully with the new tables and red chairs over which they tower, and Paul Wills’ ring-shaped design gives the feeling of an arena outside which nothing is reality. Philip Gladwell’s lighting highlights this, and the inclusion of a bright outward facing strip-light at the end forces us to look inwardly. Pete Rice’s sound design, incorporating static sounds between scenes, is both ethereal and unnerving.

The characters in the play do at times are somewhat stereotypical, and although this could have been a conscious decision on Stephens’ part, some do at times seem to be two-dimensional. This is especially the case with the three girls, who are not often allowed to speak their minds and seem to be overshadowed by the boys in the play. Nevertheless, this could also be a comment on imbalance in youth culture. Nevertheless, Puck Rock is an intense and powerful piece of theatre, hinting at the what the consequences can be if older generations fail to take notice of young people and listen to them.


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