Thursday, 17 September 2009

Punk Rock

To the Lyric to see Punk Rock, the new Simon Stephens play. Simon's one of my favourite contemporary writers On the Shore of the Wide World and Motortown are two of the most insightful plays about our times. There is always a light touch of domesticity in his work, a natural understanding of the tentative ways in which families and friendship groups manoeuvre. Nobody, it feels, is observing quite as closely.

This latest work didn't disappoint. Set in a sixth form library of Stockport grammar school, a group of high achieving A-level students prepare for their finals. They have everything the best of parenting and education can offer, they're bright, articulate, aware and on the surface sharp and self-assured, but as the personal relationships unravel Stephens reveals a world of fear and ultimate chaos just a casual disappointment below the surface.

The play works brilliantly in its suggestion that the aspiration we've encouraged in the young, needs a humanistic down scale in line with the temper of our post-crash times. In one particularly moving speech school newcomer Lily movingly suggests that most teenagers are OK, well meaning, looking forward to the normality of work, family and being part of something. Set against this is an adult world of teachers and parents who only take notice of their charges when they are either overtly ambitious or anti-social.
Punk Rock is smart about this simplification and in the privacy of the library each student demonstrates their chameleon skill at playing the many roles open to them as they negotiate their own sociological and psychological identities. It's like watching a brilliant orchestra regularly hitting the right notes, but never quite able to put them together in the right order.

There's great direction from Simon's regular collaborator Sarah Frankcom, who once again finds the perfect pace and rhythm for the immaculately crafted dialogue and brilliant performances from all of the young cast. As with On the Shore, a shocking moment of schism in the plot takes your breath away. It's right on the money.

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