Simon Stephens’s acclaimed 2009 play Punk Rock has already had a Liverpool outing in the last 12 months; simply designed and packing quite the dramatic punch, it is unlikely to be the last we see of it, either.
What begins as a tale of everyday group of sixth formers dealing with heightened emotions and pressures in the run up to their mock exams becomes less insular as a violent incident changes everything. Among the students you have your typical characters, including worldly new girl Lilly (Emma Bentley), amiable jock-type Nicholas (Mo Bah), girly high achiever Cissy (Balqis Duvall), daydreamer Tanya (Teresa O’Brien), bully Bennett (Zach Slater), and the object of his torment, nerdy Chadwick (Jun Hwang). There is also more to William (Jack Taylor-Wood) and his tall tales than first appears.
As the mundanity of school life (described in the programme as “a cocktail of bullying, hormones and unrequited love”) starts to build up to horror, although Stephens’s characters each serve a purpose they are not really given enough of a back story to care about where they came from or where they are going. The audience knows one of the group is being set up to snap, and one good twist in the piece is that it may not be who you expect. Bennett is a cartoonish monster to whom the others are inexplicably in thrall, but the character seems more of a device than a rounded human being – as do many of the others. It would seem the play is more about the issue at its core – young people and mental health – than anything else. However the cast do well with this and it is interesting to see the social hierarchy crumble when in fear of a common enemy and mortal danger. The dramatic climax is well-realised, tense and genuinely unnerving.
Stephens’s script, as previously mentioned, is lacking in parts and doesn’t always convince but the play does have an exciting style. The scene changes segue with bursts of strobe lighting, blaring alt-rock and nicely choreographed and executed segments of physical theatre that add to the brooding intensity of the show.
There are two more performances of Punk Rock today (March 15) at 2.30pm and 7.30pm, with tickets available on the door.