Punk Rock (2010)

Edward Franklin and Katie West in Punk Rock

Edward Franklin and Katie West in Punk Rock. Image courtesy of Amy Belson (Press Manager, Lyric Hammersmith)

Lyric Hammersmith, 6 – 18 September (then touring)

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

If you missed Simon Stephens’s Punk Rock this time last year, now’s your chance to make good. Despite only three of the original cast having survived to join this touring production, in most important respects it’s a facsimile of the premiere.

This is not an unequivocally good thing. While ultimately rewarding, Punk Rock is a slow starter. Until the interval, little happens besides a bunch of Stockport sixth-formers chatting in the library. What’s said is often insightful, sometimes suprising, and undaunted by big themes, but offers few clues about where the play might be headed. This is intentional, but potentially makes for a meandering, purposeless first half. The original production didn’t surmount this issue, and this one, being a near-perfect recreation, doesn’t either.

By the interval, enough tension has accumulated to tauten the sails and drive the play to its heart-thumping conclusion. A large portion of that tension is attributable to Bennett Francis, the bully whose faux-congenial humiliation games seem calculated to incubate retaliatory action.

Bennett’s is the only noticeably altered portrayal. In 2009, Henry Lloyd-Hughes lent the character a genuine affability that suggested he believed his own bullshit, that to him his victimisation of poor awkward genius Chadwick Meade really was just horseplay. With a sneering Edward Franklin in the blazer instead, Bennett is intentionally spiteful rather than monstrously insensitive; his villainy is a little more clear-cut, which peels an onionskin-thin layer of nuance away from the deliberately unfathomable climax.

Written by Simon Stephens

Crew includes Sarah Frankcom (director), Paul Wills (designer), Philip Gladwell (lighting designer), Pete Rice (sound designer) and Kate Waters (fight director)

Cast includes Nicholas Banks (Nicholas Chatman), Edward Franklin (Bennett Francis), Ruth Milne (Cissy Franks), Mike Noble (Chadwick Meade), Laura Pyper (Lily Cahill), Rupert Simonian (William Carlisle), Katie West (Tanya Gleason), Simon Wolfe (Dr Richard Harvey), Juliet York (Lucy Francis)

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5 Responses to “Punk Rock (2010)”

  1. Good review, and you’ve nailed the Bennett problem. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why Lloyd-Hughes was better but you’re totally right. I actually enjoyed it more second time round which surprised me.

    • Thanks! Glad you mentioned Chatman and West in your review – I really enjoyed their performances again, but couldn’t find room in the review to mention them.

      Interesting you thought Mike Noble was very good – I think I had the same problem with him and Harry McEntire that you had with Edward Franklin and Henry Lloyd-Hughes. I hadn’t been aware that I’d found McEntire memorable, but I kept recalling lines the way he’d delivered them moments before Noble did, and finding more subtlety in McEntire (particularly “Does that mean you’re bisexual?”).

  2. Just seen the play at the King’s in Edinburgh, really enjoyed it – excellent script, nice production, fine acting.

    But the house was less than the show deserves. I think the play’s title could be putting people off – certainly we never fancied it, until hearing good reports from friends. We really did assume it would be a history of punk, or full of punk music and simply weren’t inclined to investigate further.

    I’ve now read Simon Stephen’s reasons for the title,* and am far from convinced there’s enough of a link with the spirit of punk to merit a title with such implications of specificity.

    And the advertising sheet, screaming about Columbine shootings … that’s giving too much away, shifting the focus from what is a rather subtle piece.

    Apart from that, I wasn’t keen on Bennett’s eventual revelation about his secret thoughts – far too cliched and obvious, especially for a play so full of sparky ideas and thoughts.

    * Terrific interview at Scotsman Online: http://living.scotsman.com/features/Interview-Simon-Stephens-playwright.6543433.jp

    • “…the advertising sheet, screaming about Columbine shootings…”

      It’s a shame theatre advertising isn’t bound by the same “no spoilers if you can help it” creed as theatre reviewers.

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