Punk Rock by Simon Stephens is gloriously directed by Bridie Rollins and Lara Tyselling to create an almost flawless take on what is most certainly a complex and multi-layered play. The play focuses on the lives of seven teenagers as they prepare to take their mock A level exams, but with a huge difference. The notoriously dramatic ending is superbly presented in the Nottingham New Theatre’s show, with the sound of the gunshots over-riding any of the bangs heard from the 5th of November fireworks outside.
On entering the auditorium the starkness of the stage sets the tone for the the play, complimenting the sudden outbursts of music which signal the scene changes. Simply decorated as a deserted school classroom, it is minimalist yet detailed enough to leave the audience little doubt as to the play’s setting. This ‘schoolroom’ feel was immediately confirmed by the entrance of the teenagers. All were dressed in creased white shirts, loose ties and black skirts/trousers, with subtle differences giving us glimpses of their character. Cissys’ (played by Anna Stubbs) figure hugging pencil skirt presented her as much more sexualised individual, compared to the more sensible, compassionate character of Tanya (played by Sasha Butler) who sported a nondescript pair of black trousers.
It is minimalist yet detailed enough to leave the audience little doubt as to the play’s setting.
Indeed, each actor gave the audience a very clear presentation of their teenage characters from the start, without falling in danger of ‘acting young’. Tom Gladstone’s portrayal of Bennett captured the essence of the character as this seemingly popular figure that everybody seeks to please despite of their fear of him. He was arrogant, self-assured and had an air of bravado about him that makes us crave his comeuppance. In contrast, Will Berrington’s quivering Chadwick Meade had all of the audience cooing with his pathetic, pitiful depiction of the ‘nerd’ stereotype.
The snappy way in which lines were said throughout meant that silences became more prominent, increasing the tension significantly.
The blocking of the piece was cleverly achieved with such a vast space to fill. Disappointingly, due to the fast-paced nature of the script, some lines were lost, particularly in scenes where actors were situated at the very back of the stage. However,generally, the lines were well-delivered by the actors, particularly by Rachel Angeli. Despite having a slightly monotonous intonation at times, Angeli’s comic timing was sublime and suited the sarky wit of her character Lily. Furthermore, the snappy way in which lines were said throughout meant that silences became more prominent, increasing the tension significantly in the penultimate scene.
Rollins and Tysellings’ decision to scrap the Stockport accents in the show allowed for an interesting interpretation of the play as it added a different dimension to the somewhat classist views of William Carlisle (played by Jacob Hayes). In a play which highlights social issues, Hayes gave an excellent performance of a character with an extremely complex psychology. William’s flippant mood swings were eloquently portrayed without being too rapid. His performance was entirely believable as his awkwardness as both a teenager and a mental health sufferer gradually became more apparent as the plot progressed.
Overall, a fantastic portrayal of Punk Rock that has done Stephens proud. For want of a better word, the play is simply one of the ‘coolest’ pieces of theatre that I’ve come across and for that reason, on top of all I have pre-mentioned, I implore you to see it.
Punk Rock is running at Nottingham New Theatre until Saturday 8th November, for tickets see here