Monthly Archives: September 2010

Punk Rock, at the Lyric Hammersmith

er no, you cannot borrow my PE kit

It’s often said that your school years are the best years of your life, but clearly whoever said this wasn’t thinking of the teenagers in writer Simon Stephen’s drama Punk Rock. As these eight students in Stockport’s public school approach their A Level mock exams, they deal with the difficulties of dating, depression, and death. And with no adults on site in the school library, where all of the play’s action takes place, they are left to their own devices to make (and break) the rules.

The play opens with the entrance of new student Lilly. She’s given a fast-paced introduction-stroke-interrogation by fellow student William who asks where she is from, what her parents do, and what music she listens to. William appears to be nice, but gradually becomes more sinister. All of the performances are well done, but Edward Franklin’s performance of Bennett Francis from a popular cad to school bully gets top marks. There is a Lord of the Flies quality throughout the story with every scene except the last set in the same place, and the teasing of Chad, the awkward, untrendy, green-puffer-jacket-wearing geek of the group, is reminiscent of Piggy.

Simon Stephen is not afraid of controversy: his previous play, Pornography, is set on July 7th 2005 and intertwines seven stories, including an imagined journey of one of the London Underground bombers. Whilst you want Punk Rock to work, it throws almost every cliché about teenagers into the mix: body image, sexuality, and violence. The critical reception of the play, when it first toured in September 2009, was resolutely positive, yet the reviewers could probably hear a voice that was not too different from their own. Chad’s apocalyptic soliloquies in particular, which include lines such as “why should I care about you, when the world is ending?”, sound like 39-year-old Stephen’s lecturing rather than teenagers speaking. Contrast that with What Fatima Did for instance, back in October 2009, where the teenagers sound like teenagers, no doubt helped by it being written by the twenty-one year old Athiha Sen-Gupta.

There is not much new you learn in Punk Rock about the world of teenagers, and the violent ending is sensational – in the bad sense of the word. An A for effort, C for execution.

Runs till 18 September. Tours the country till 20 November, including the Oxford Playhouse from 2 November till 6 November.

To see or not to see: * * *


King Lear and His Daughters, at the King’s Head Theatre

Do we look bovvered?

We’ve had Reduced Shakespeare, tweeted Shakespeare, and now the latest attempt at shortening the bard is lunchtime Shakespeare.  At 1pm, for 45 minutes, you can watch the epic tragedy of King Lear. Bobby Fincher may have heavily abridged the text, but it still remains an enthralling story.

King Lear tells the tale of political power struggles, divided kingdoms, and hierarchies. At the heart of the play, and what this edit chooses to focus on, is the ageing Lear and his relationship with his three daughters. Director Rafe Beckley takes us to the swinging sixties, The Who’s My Generation opens the play and other rock songs continue to act as a soundtrack to the show. The language remains Shakespearean but the setting is modern, at one point Lear is even standing at a platform in Euston waiting for a train. The period’s costumes are excellent with the daughters wearing flowery dresses, knee high boots, beehive hair, and winged eye make up. The reasons for setting the play in this decade, however, could have been more fully explored.

Three actors cleverly play Lear: the first when he is angry with his daughters, the second when he descends into madness, and the last when he reconciles with Cordelia. The Lears, in particular James Sutherland, create powerful moments. The transition from each Lear is done smoothly, each one wear the same professor-like elbow patched suit, whilst the man inside it changes. Whilst the play is called King Lear and His Daughters, it is the portrayal of his madness that stands out. When the storm descends on the little stage it feels mightier with crashing wave sounds, torch-lights, and a lone Lear.

There are no new insights into the play. The doubling up of Suzanne Kendall playing Cordelia and the Fool, two people who are close to Lear is an interesting choice, but more could have been made of it. The Fool also gives us no laughs, instead this is a quick-paced, serious, and intense 45 minutes. So when we arrive to the most dramatic moment, Cordelia’s death, it feels rushed rather than poignant. It is the shortage of time that makes it difficult to develop a bond with the characters. Bite-size Shakespeare that leaves you hungry for more.

Runs till 19 September.

To see or not to see: * * *