If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me (Young Vic)

Jane Horrocks stars in this new show featuring the music of The Smiths, Joy Division, The Human League and more

"This is archeology," Jane Horrocks explains: an attempt to work out what everyone was thinking back in 1978 when they rocked out to The Fall and Cabaret Voltaire. She digs up and dusts down the songs to see what's underneath them culturally; what made this music into a movement.

If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me is several things at once. It's a post-punk cabaret – Jane Horrocks sings the Manchester music scene of the early '80s, kind of thing. It's more than an arbitrary showcase though; there's meaning in the track choices, links in their lyrics. That makes it a kind of non-narrative jukebox musical. But it's also a dance piece, with Aletta Collins' choreography interpreting the songs like a score.

Look, I wouldn’t know a Buzzcock if it hit me in the face. I wasn’t a Mancunian teen in the late '70s, I’ve never knowingly picked up a copy of NME and I’m the only person in the world that wasn’t at the Lesser Free Trade Hall to see the Sex Pistols. I’m so post-punk, I’m Britpop. Safe to say, I am not the target audience for this show.

Horrocks, looking very Debbie Harry in her blue jumpsuit, drops her voice to a throaty Morrissey-like drone. She sounds like a Lemsip advert, but there's something affected about her insouciant swagger. She's an intriguing presence, as ever – androgynous and almost ageless – but still slight and pixieish. The songs don't sit right in her mouth.

That's partly the point, I think. What does this teenage angst look like on a woman in her mid-forties? What happens to youth culture when its fans grow up and get jobs? What's Mark E. Smith with a mortgage and two kids?

The songs, by bands like Joy Division and Throbbing Gristle, are the warblings of misfits and outsiders, prodding at the mainstream, bemoaning the status quo. They don't belong and nor do they want to. Gang of Four's "Anthrax" – Horrocks' opener – cocks a cynical idea at the manufactured, mysterious notion of love we're sold by pop culture; the "Fiction Romance" that Buzzcocks warned of. When Horrocks hollers "Empire State Human" by the Human League – bawling 'I wanna be tall' – she's surrounded by microphones, as if height meant having a voice. Bunny Christie's design – a giant plug smokey – turns Horrocks and her band into Borrowers. The whole thing feels like an extended music video – slick, easy on the eye, pretty vapid. There's a thump to the music, but I should have come out wanting to set up a playlist and I just didn't.

Collins' choreography catches the awkwardness of teenagers. Her four dancers – all in something like school uniform – squirm and spasm, somewhere between self-consciousness and orgasm. They scream silent screams and attempt to escape their bodies, almost writhing out of their skins. Against the hollow ache of this music, they don't twist and shout, but glitch and scratch. One rolls slowly off the stage, another howls on top of the fridge. The domestic sphere feels like a constraint.

Throughout, there are these bursts of classical ballet – springy-limbed and limber – that sit strangely against the rasping music. One so light on its feet, the other so down at heel; a clash of convention and alternative. That the show ends with a man in a suit, dancing en pointe to New Order of all things, feels damning – like a betrayal of that youthful rebellion, like these kids became the very thing they loathed. And now they're sat here, in a theatre, watching arty dance-theatre-cabaret versions of the music they moshed out to back in the day. What would their younger selves have said?

If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me runs at the Young Vic until 16 April.