Sunday, 20 September 2009

Punk rock

I think Simon Stephens may be stalking me. Every flipping time I go out, there he is.

Ok, to be fair, it is just the times I go to the theatre.

...and see plays that are written by him.

Is it just coincidence or do playwrights all go to every performance of their stuff?

Whatever the answer, it does make it sodding hard to fully critique the play in the bar afterwards with when the tall, affable writer is lolloping around and hugging the cast and generally popping up just at the point you start to loudly discuss all the bits you didn't like.

Now, at Pornography, this wasn't so much of an issue. Had Mr Stephens troubled himself to listen in, he would have heard (almost) nothing but glowing praise and positive comments and gone away quite contented, in the unlikely event he cares what random, picky punters think.

At Punk Rock, however... not so much.

Now, I went on the Lyric website, and apparently the play 'expose[s] the violence simmering under the surface of success'. This is news to me. It's also pretty telling that I had to go and check what the play is saying its supposed to be about because it's not exactly clear from watching it.

Here's what I can tell you: Punk Rock is set in the library of a fee-paying school in the north-west. New girl Lily arrives from Cambridge. Kids hang out. Drama doesn't really ensue. Not for the first hour at least.

A cursory glance at the publicity reveals that this is a play about teenage violence, so I don't think I'm giving too much away by saying it all ends in a hail of bullets. So the first 20 minutes is spent as a kind of exercise in who will do it:

The nervy eloquent one?
The bullied maths geek?
The outwardly confident new girl with self-harm tendencies?

Or one of the other ones.

Frankly, it's hard to care.

It all builds towards the violence with a minimal amount of drama, or tension, or action of any sort. Nervy boy asks new girl out. She's already shagging the sporty one. Twatty bloke is twatty. Maths geek has slightly pointless speech about, well, the pointlessness of it all. Someone spits in someone's face.

I don't know if I caught an off night, but the whole thing felt flat.

There are some decent things about it. The dialogue is sharp, if oddly timeless. Apart from the odd chav'n'climate change references, this could be set at any point in the last 40 years.

Some of the performances are great. Tom Sturridge seems to be getting a lot of love in the reviews, but I found his wandering accent far too distracting to fully appreciate his work. But I did like Katie West and Harry McEntire who gave unshowy performances in difficult roles.

And, er, the set was very atmospheric.

(I think the point at which you start praising the set is probably a barrel-scraping moment for positive things to say).

But the fundamental problem with the whole thing was the complete lack of a point. There was no believable build-up to the act of violence. And in an odd coda, the reasons variously tossed at the audience without any discernible commitment ranged from mental illness to celebrity culture to just because.

It wouldn't be so bad, except one of the characters speechified in a very mouthpiece way about how 99 per cent of the yoof are absolutely fine, it just never gets noticed.

If this is what the playwright really thinks, then I wonder why he decided to write a play where one of the other one per cent shoots a load of people at the end.

But maybe that's just me.


Romilly said...
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easilydistractedwriter said...

You're too kind! It's much, much easier to do a scathing review of someone else's play than it is to actually write something good myself, sadly...

(Katie was Tania.)