Powderkegs in school uniform
By Owen James
Simon Stephens is one of my favourite contemporary playwrights, his works electrifying and always relevant. The raw, confronting story of Punk Rock tackles the escalating and debilitating final three months in the lives of seven teens in their last year of grammar school.
Stephens’ extremely realistic characters are taken to their most energetic and explosive extremes in this production by Patalog Theatre, with director Ruby Rees ensuring they are infused with equal measures of juvenile rebellion and adolescent uncertainty. Rees’ direction is powerful and pacy; the interval-less lengthy runtime passes in a flash, and the Breakfast Club-esque pressure cooker setting is used to its full advantage with intimate, imaginative staging. Rees has included punctuating frenzies of fantastical violence, sex and desire as scene transitions, which are for the most part effective at disrupting our comfort and expectation.
There is not a weak link to be found in this tight ensemble of eight, who all expertly commit to the violent, often terrifying world they are trapped inside. They are a joy to watch. Audience favourite Laurence Boxhall as timid Chadwick gives us many of the play’s most hilarious and crushing moments, and is perhaps the most successful of the group at combining the tropes of his character’s clichéd stereotype with authenticity. Ruby Duncan is a powerful presence as Cissy, fearlessly launching into many conflicting emotions with endless gusto and wavering stability.
Stephens has written a challenging, tormenting character in mutinous kingpin William, who Ben Walter brings to life with nuance and glimpses of delightfully unrestrained anarchy through every cautious powerplay. Walter’s William is as distressing as Stephens has written him to be, building to the play’s final crescendo with disturbing composure.
Annie Shapero is electric as deceptively simple Tanya, and Flynn Smeaton as Nicholas is the perfect blend of studious and smarmy. Karl Richmond brings depth to provocative maverick Bennet, suggesting deeper personal discomfort that may be prompting this genuinely intimidating bully to act out as he does. New student Lilly is our initial line-in to this world, portrayed by Zoe Hawkins with sass and a brazen disregard for conformity. Jessica Clarke’s brief stint as Dr Harvey in the final scene is strong and considered.
Patalog Theatre are leaping from strength to strength with every production. They are one of the most important companies to watch for us theatregoers who enjoy contemporary, boundary-pushing evenings of grit and dynamic gusto. Patalog and Punk Rock embody everything good theatre should be.
Don’t miss this gripping rendition of thunderous retribution, playing at fortyfivedownstairs until December 15. (Beware of blood splatter for those in the front row…)
Photography by Craig Fuller