REVIEW: Punk Rock by Simon Stephens

Patalog Theatre Company's production of Simon Stephens' Punk Rock

You’re a teenager and your hormones are racing and you’re in school and you’re supposed to be studying but there’s a girl… there’s a boy… there’s your awkward body and your perspiration and emotions and masturbation and kissing and daydreams and nightmares… you want to act out but you’re taking your mock A Level exams at a grammar school in Stockport and there’s some pressure to do well but… you just want to dance and fuck and turn over tables and feel everything.

Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock is a two-and-a-half-hour drive into the malaise of being a teenager, where you think you know all the answers, but can be taken down a peg or two by a look from a girl you fancy or from a bully who might fancy you. Where you might feel nervous or uncomfortable in your body, but inside you’re ready to rock the hell out. It’s a delicate and dangerous balance.

Patalog Theatre Company’s production of Stephens’ play is slick in parts and rough around the edges in others, which seems fitting. Director Ruby Rees has unleashed the anarchy of the script onto Fortyfive Downstairs and has assembled a large, wonderfully-talented cast to bring the play alive.

The dialogue is at once poetic and true-to-life; the words of these characters sing, but we recognise these people and their situations, even if we didn’t grow up in Greater Manchester. At first, the characters seem like types, but the play digs deeper and the actors more than match the material. It was thrilling to see eight actors working together so well, without a weak link among them.

The play itself slides a little off the rails in the final few scenes; an eruption of violence is visceral and shocking but it felt like Stephens’ ratcheting up the dramatic tension rather than a true evolution of the story we have seen so far. The dance-break transitions disappear by the end and we’re stuck watching stage hands resetting for the final scene and it upsets the flow of a play that has previously flown by.

How do I talk about the actors without making a list? Here they are, each mesmerising, captivating and repulsive in their own way, as only teenagers can be. Take a bow Laurence Boxhall, Jessica Clarke, Ruby Duncan, Zoe Hawkins, Karl Richmond, Annie Shapiro, Flynn Smeaton, Ben Walter. I will undoubtedly see many, if not all, of you on stages again soon. I look forward to saying I first saw you in Punk Rock at Fortyfive Downstairs.

I saw two plays this week by playwrights from Manchester. If This Wide Night was about the marginalised in society, Punk Rock is about privileged children who are compelled by primal urges – in a world that is no longer built for them and is on the precipice of collapse. Why follow society’s rules when it’s failing you and falling apart around you?

Punk Rock is an iconic play from one of Britain’s most acclaimed playwrights. Patalog Theatre has made a thrilling, confronting production. It’s on until December 15th.