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.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

please please please let me get what I want

Something else to add to the list of things I'm learning about myself through the medium of trying to be a writer: if I can leverage in a gratituous Smiths reference in, I will.

(If I can leverage in a Belle and Sebastian reference, I'm flipping ecstatic. But it's a bit more challenging).

And so, with crushing predictability, I'm giving in to the inevitable and rewriting some serious heartfelt words and reworking it all as a laugh every few minutes (I hope) comedy. Honestly, this is an absolutely last ditch attempt to make use of all these sodding scenes I wrote and liked, and tried to make into a play and failed entirely.

So we'll see if it works, or if this writing quite simply belongs down the dumper (copyright Smash Hits circa 1992).

And with a startling lack of imagination, I've been listening to the Smiths as I edit, and so I'm calling it after one of my favourite songs they do.

The fact that I'm sitting in on a Friday evening writing and listening to the Smiths probably tells you everything you need to know about the chances of me ever please please please getting what I want.

But that's another story.