Frequently compared to the likes of Skins, The History Boys and Lord of the Flies, Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock is an iconic offering of powerful, realistic adolescent drama. The concept is a simple one; the play follows 6 sixth formers of Stockport Grammar school as they adopt new girl Lily Cahill into their social circle and prepare for their A-Levels. Yet the threats of violence, humiliation, and the unknown transform it into something rather more complex and, ultimately, catastrophic.
Next week, Sunscreen productions will be reviving Stephens’ play for the Oxford stage. They have done away with the Manchester accents of the original, striving to bring the material closer to home, and yet the unfamiliar is equally emphasised. Before I enter the theatre, accordingly, I pass the cast in character who look up from Rubik’s cubes, shoot unwelcoming glances, and offer sluggish handshakes. This immersive experience continues into the production itself – the protagonist William, ambitious, unsatisfied and, here, light on his feet, delivers his lines from all around me, whilst the sadistic Bennett saunters in from the same door I entered from. LMH’s relatively unknown Simpkins Lee theatre will prove to be a perfect venue for this; its anonymity runs parallel to Lily’s entrance into the ‘upper school library’ for the first time. It is clearly a production that has been given a lot of thought and, from what I have seen, the cast have been able to capture the immediacy of the writing.
Refusing to let the angst and glamour of teenage drama become something of a cliché, these characters, in the hands of a capable and effortless cast, promise to be well developed as well as recognisable. At times, they are amusing for the same reasons they are unnerving. At others, in explorations of fear, insecurities, and mania constructed by director Archie Thomson, they become depersonalised entirely.
What I look forward to most about this particular production, which will come to light when performed in its entirety, is its sustained and growing tension – an aspect of the play that Thomson seeks to heighten.
Overall, this promises to be witty, gritty and thoughtful drama.
Punk Rock will be performed at the Simpkins Lee theatre, LMH, from Monday 1st – Thursday 4th June at 7.30pm.