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: * * *