Pop: But these old timers really made them spit... a long time ago

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The Independent Culture
When we first meet Martin Mowbray in Alan Pollock's new play What Do I Get? at the Islington Old Red Lion, he's slumped in front of a dressing- room mirror, its stark bulbs chastising him. He's the host of a crummy late-night talk show now, but 20 years ago... well, he was really somebody back then: frontman with punk one-hit wonders The Speedometers, writer of their smash "Be Anything You Wanna Be", a song that has earned him the closest thing to immortality - ubiquity on the nation's pub jukeboxes - not to mention the pounds 30,000 he pocketed for licensing it to a jeans commercial. And now, just as he's making a living of sorts, perhaps even moving on from his past, the old days have returned to haunt him. The Speedometers are going to be the subject of a TV documentary, and Martin Mowbray will once again be celebrated - or is it exposed?

Pollock isn't embarrassed to be caught pining for the hedonistic idealism of punk, or to underline its importance in defining today's fashions and attitudes, but he also manages to capture its inchoate nature very succinctly. He understands that punk was never going to look much cop the morning after. It was a blast, a spurt, as brief and crude and kinetic as any of the two-minute singles it spawned, but a real Frankenstein's monster at heart: a quick graceless rampage around the country deflowering sons and daughters, and then it was chopped up and the parts used for something else - New Wave, Grunge, whatever.

When you spread that kind of spontaneity on the slab and start dissecting it, the results can look clinical or contrived (hence Pollock's argument that, in some ways, TV helped to both create and destroy punk). But What Do I Get? is neither. It employs the life-after-punk scenario as a metaphor for examining how we all find room in our lives to accommodate our insecurities and compromises - how we converse with the people we once were. The play is a requiem for punk, but also for youth, and for dreams. Its characters have stopped chanting "no future" and started thinking about pension plans. As The Speedometers' drummer Gordana (Kate Gartside) says when she's faced with being the end of the family line: "If I don't have kids, it'll be like I never existed." A sub-culture characterised by its nihilism must suddenly confront the fact that life goes on.

If this sounds overbearingly sombre, then that's because it could be in the wrong hands. But Jake Lushington teases the absurdities out of the characters, encouraging their self-deprecation. Martin Marquez in particular proves himself to be a master of comic timing as the Richard Jobson-esque Mowbray, investing every dry pause or arch of the eyebrow with the sting of a sharp one-liner. Kate Gartside and Rob Jarvis (as the Jigsaw's missing piece, guitarist Billy Whizz, now trading under his real name - Keith) are also excellent as the cohorts betrayed by Mowbray but facing an altogether brighter future.

Best of all, the production is lent a chilly, embalmed feel by Julia Smith's sparse design: tiled abbatoir walls lit swamp green, and a trio of meat-hooks that echo the menacing accoutrements of punk - accessories before accessorising had a name.

To 22 Feb. Booking: 0171-837 7816

Ryan Gilbey

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