Lyric Hammersmith, 3 – 26 September 2009
Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog
Each scene of Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock is abruptly curtailed by an uncomfortably loud belch of feedback and a mangled excerpt from a rock song. By the second hour, each of these sonic interjections sends ripples of uneasy laughter through the stalls. The whole audience is on edge, braced for a shock. Stephens’ clutch of Stockport sixth formers, seen between lessons in Paul Wills’ towering, forbidding onstage library, seem incapable of reining in the impulse to probe and prod and push one another’s boundaries; everyone in the auditorium can tell someone’s going to snap.
By the time the anticipated act of violence occurs, Stephens has laid out a whole smorgasbord of potential contributing factors: unrequited teenage love; body image issues; the spectre of trouble at home; alcohol; an environment in which parents and teachers allow sixth formers to believe a C grade in an English mock means they’ll “never get out of Stockport”; plus Bennet Francis (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), a bully whose aloof disregard for those he hurts is worse by far than actual malice, and whose effect on the group debunks with ease that maxim about sticks and stones so beloved of adult authority figures.
Yet Stephens’ real achievement is that despite all the factors presented to us, when our minds reach, as they tend to do, for a simple, catch-all way to explain the tragedy, there isn’t one. It doesn’t even feel satisfactory to conclude, “it was probably a combination of all those things”.
As an examination of the overly simplistic adult tendency to classify teenage behaviour as the direct result of easily identifiable causes like alcohol, pornography and violent media, Punk Rock delivers; though no alternative theory is forthcoming, unless you count, “some people are just broken”.
Stephens’ love of language carries him away into the odd overwrought line, and Director Sarah Frankcom’s love of Stephens’ language leads to characters delivering extended passages straight out front, while the characters they’re supposedly addressing slouch behind them in a symmetrical chorus-line chevron. The script is excellent – funny in a terrifying and guilt-ridden kind of way – and it deserves to be placed centre stage, but such unnatural blocking actually distracts from the words. Or is that too simple, too immediate an explanation…?
Written by Simon Stephens
Crew includes Sarah Frankcom (director), Paul Wills (designer), Philip Gladwell (lighting designer) and Pete Rice (sound designer)
Cast includes Nicholas Banks (Nicholas Chatman), Ghazaleh Golpira (Lucy Francis), Henry Lloyd-Hughes (Bennet Francis), Harry McEntire (Chadwick Meade), Jessica Raine (Lilly Cahill), Tom Sturridge (William Carlisle), Katie West (Tanya Gleason), Simon Wolfe (Dr Richard Harvey) and Sophie Wu (Cissy Franks)
Need a second opinion?
- Read Michael Billington’s review for The Guardian
- Read Evelyn Curlet’s review for The Stage
- Read Henry Hitchings’s review for the Evening Standard
- Read Kat Brown’s review for The London Paper
- Read Philip Fisher’s review for the British Theatre Guide
- Read Natasha Tripney’s review for musicOMH
- Read Lizzie Loveridge’s review for Curtain Up