A play about a group of school kids taking their A Levels in Stockport turns dark when mixed with raging hormones and exam stress. Nottingham New Theatre’s performance of Simon Stephens Punk Rock had the audience on the edge of their seats throughout. Isabelle Hunter reviews.
”You have to see this play,” is what I told my housemates after seeing Punk Rock at the NNT. I came away gasping for air whilst laughing and crying; an undeniably incredible production that left every audience member shaking with fear and captivation.
From what seems to be an innocent school in Manchester, depicting scenes of twisted romance, heartbreak, and teenage life, the tale begins to unfold as William Carlisle (portrayed by Abraham ‘Jake’ Botha) breaks down into an unforgiveable moment.
Immediately, the play comes across as a comedy. Botha’s depiction of William is innocent and naïve, with laughter erupting from the audience at every sentence. From the subtle details, such as the way his uniform is slightly too large, to the way he sits with his hands neatly in his lap, something feels ever so slightly off with this character, and it is fascinating.
[Bennett] had the audience stunned to complete silence; you could hear a pin drop
The development of his character from the initial moment we meet him is clear throughout, as we see the deterioration of his mental state through small (and some large) gestures. The way he clenched his fists, or simply looked up through his hair while lightly jerking his head, had us all questioning his next move.
Bennett (portrayed by Charlie Bellwood) was utterly terrifying in his every move. The contrast between the way he treats Chadwick (William Morgan) to talking to his girlfriend Cissy (Ella Seber-Rajan) had the audience stunned to complete silence; you could hear a pin drop. Nicolas’ (Isaac Pengelly) charm oozed from the stage with every word, and Tanya’s (Chiedza McNab) timid yet strong personality shone through. Finally, Kishan Ganatra’s depiction of Dr. Richard Harvey exhibited a wave of fresh air and calm after the previous scene.
There were moments where you felt sorry for William. Sympathy rushed over me, especially during his interactions with Lilly (Emily Rule). However, (no spoilers!) can we just talk about the crux of the play near the end? While Botha stood on the desk, his face was neatly lit to resemble that of kids telling a horror story round a campfire. I felt propelled into the world of the play immediately, and physically cowered away from Botha in my seat, hoping he didn’t catch my eye in the audience.
The set design (Jack Titley) allowed for perfect character interaction with every scene, while maintaining a very realistic depiction of a classic secondary school library, one every member of the audience is familiar with. The set included plastic chairs, desks, and even a pinboard on the wall. A trophy case was placed neatly at the back of the stage.
The transitions set a clear contrast between the tense and comedic moments of the play, allowing the audience a quick breather before the next scene. Pink and blue lights (designed by Patrick Richards) would spin across the stage, depicting lighting similar to a concert, whilst rock music played loudly throughout the auditorium. A neutral white wash was used for most scenes within the play; I felt this enhanced the intense moments of the performance as it allowed us to focus fully on the acting onstage.
She brought the play to life in a way which gripped the audience during every second
Admittedly, I entered the theatre slightly apprehensive about the running length. With no interval, I felt nervous as someone who finds it hard to concentrate for extended periods of time. However, this did not matter in the slightest. Hours felt like minutes when watching this cast, and I didn’t dare take my eyes away from the stage.
Rachel Coussins as Director captured the essence of Punk Rock incredibly well. She brought the play to life in a way which gripped the audience during every second. All the cast and crew deserve huge praise, especially Helena Hunt as producer. I urge everyone to go and see this performance at NNT, it truly is remarkable.
Featured image courtesy of The Nottingham New Theatre via Facebook. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
In-article images courtesy of @punkrock.nnt via @instagram.com. No changes were made to these images.
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