With the title no preparation for the unfolding tale to come, Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock is a bleak insight into the tensions suffered by high-achieving teenagers and the way in which they cope …or not.
A nominee for the 2010 TMA Awards best new play, The Lyric/Royal Exchange Theatre production was caught mid-tour in Plymouth.
Set in a fee-paying Stockport school’s towering ancient library and concentrating on seven A’ level students, this is a familiar and harrowing insight into the social dynamics experienced by most of our youngsters and the pressures to which they succumb.
And why called Punk Rock? Stephens explains: “Punk rock ..... more often came out of art school than housing estates. It is the musical manifestation of the anger and frustration a lot of middle-class kids feel. It cuts to the quick of that energy.”
So that is the premise: that middle class, bright adolescents are not exempt from teenage angst, mental illness, burgeoning sexuality, general nastiness and loss of identity but perhaps have extra pressures of expectation foisted upon them.
Easily identifiable are Cissy (Ruth Milne) whose parents will ‘kill her’ if she doesn’t achieve the expected top marks and who is easily manipulated by her ghastly testosterone-driven bully of a boyfriend Bennett (Edward Franklin) who rules without boundaries and makes those around him bend to his whims.
His usual target is the clever and intense Chadwick (Mike Noble) who refuses to rise to the bait and retains his dignity despite being taunted and humiliated. Sweet Tanya (Katie West) is the only one who sticks up for him and herself draws Bennett’s fire which is punished when she steps over the line and reports his behaviour.
Nicholas (Nicholas Banks) vents his frustrations in the gym and the resultant six pack attracts newcomer self-harmer Lilly (Laura Pyper) to the chagrin of main protagonist self-deluding needy nerd William Carlisle (Rupert Simonian).
With overtures of the Columbine shootings and the uncomfortable fact that each character is an instantly recognisable stereotype of the school common room, Punk Rock is plodding - seemingly aimlessly wandering and pretty uneventful in the first half with a couple of laughs but little insight into the psyche of the individuals while the second escalates into the unfamiliar but which brings out the cod psychologist in us all.
Too studied and slow for me I’m afraid but that is no fault of a tremendous young cast and director Sarah Frankcom who make a ponderous derivative reasonably watchable.