Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith, London
Monday 13 September 2010
The setting is a Stockport grammar school. The stage is a dank, dusty library. The players are a bunch of precocious middle-class 17-year-olds. But the audience watching seven girls and boys holed up together revising for their A-level mocks is anything but bored.
Sarah Frankcom's production draws complex adolescent relationships devoid of the patronising stroppiness often afforded to teenagers. The school setting feels slightly derivative, but the show's playwright, Simon Stephens, a former teacher, writes funny and cruel banter which strikes a truthfully juvenile tone.
Rupert Simonian as William Carlisle is superb. His portrayal of a lost soul who lies to amuse friends who mock him behind his back is agonising. When he fumblingly pursues, and is rejected by, new girl Lilly Cahill (played by Laura Pyper), it is pathetically compelling.
The vile leader of the pack, Bennett Francis, an excellent Edward Franklin, alternates between character assassination and debonair foppishness, following each act of fiendish spite with: "I'm only playing with you." His main target, maths geek Chadwick Meade (Mike Noble), eventually stands up to him with a wonderfully apocalyptic and misanthropic speech that seems to say: "Why should I care about you when the world is ending?"
Their verbal sparring is interrupted throughout by ear-splitting music during scene changes. The music splinters the gathering unease during a play which is ultimately about bullying disguised as friendship in a pressure-cooker environment where failing your exams is tantamount to suicide.
The play ends with an act of horrifying violence arbitrated from within the group. The ensuing psychoanalysis and change in tone is the only disappointment in an otherwise gripping show.
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