The pupils at a high-achieving fee-paying grammar school gather in the sixth-form library. They are preoccupied with their upcoming mock A level exams. They talk about their lives, families, sex and each other. They seem to be a close-knit group of friends, but tensions escalate and things start to get nasty. The dialogue and subject matter in Simon Stephens’ play Punk Rock is gritty and raw. It neatly sums up those moments between childhood and adulthood when young people are still at school but on the cusp of becoming adults; and bearing all the burdens, angst and curiosity that come with that stage in life.
Director Lisa Gregan and the creative team behind this production have emphasised the simple setting of this play. The staging is a few desks, chairs and bookshelves; the lighting (by designer Tim Streader) is simple and restrained allowing each actor’s performance to stand out. Every scene is bookended with loud music; they appear connected but distinct, like a string of tableaus. Almost in-the-round, the audience line three sides of the stage at The Lantern, highlighting the voyeuristic nature of the play. We are party to the secrets of these children’s lives as the story develops.
It’s vital in a piece like this that the nature and character of each part is brought out and each of the seven actors who play the pupils brings something distinctive to their roles. Jack Orozco Morrison is bullish as the over-bearing Bennett, gradually revealing his casual cruelty, with Hannah Tudge as his meek and stressed girlfriend Cissy. Nell O’Hara smiles, flirts and charms as new girl Lilly, while Oscar Adams is muscular show-off Nicholas. Weird genius Chadwick Mead is played by Toby Pritchard, who does a decent job of engendering our sympathies for this hapless character. Hannah Hecheverria is Tanya and Tom Davies is the slightly awkward William. Davies works hard throughout the show and brings the required subtlety to his character. We are always wondering whether we should pity William, or laugh at him.
The show is produced by Bristol Old Vic Young Company, one of the largest regional youth theatres in the UK. It’s home to over 350 young people aged 5-25 who take part in an ongoing programme of weekly sessions, theatre masterclasses, community projects and full-scale performances. The Company provides an environment of playful creativity; allowing young people to experiment with different techniques, genres and art forms guided by a team of professional artists. This play is perfect to showcase the talents of some of those who participate in the scheme. Punk Rock is a perceptive but scary tale of a Stockport grammar school. The themes of childhood torment and the gradual decline of behaviour amongst a group of school kids are not new. But the team behind this show have given it plenty of bite and furnish us a worthwhile and entertaining performance. ★★★★☆ Adrian Mantle 12th January 2018