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«Punk Rock» του Σάιμον Στίβενς στο Λονδίνο

  • Lyric Hammersmith
  • Lyric.co.uk

Punk Rock

«Punk Rock». Το έργο του Σάιμον Στίβενς [Simon Stephens], στο οποίο ο συγγραφέας αγγίζει το πρόβλημα της βίας σε ένα βρετανικό λύκειο, φαίνεται να ανταποκρίνεται σε πραγματικά περιστατικά φονικής βίας σε σχολεία των ΗΠΑ και της Ευρώπης. Ωστόσο, το πραγματικό θέμα του είναι η αρρώστια του φόβου και του άγχους που απλώνεται σαν ίωση ανάμεσα στους εφήβους. Η παράσταση, σκηνοθετημένη από τη Σάρα Φράνκομ, έχει εγκωμιαστεί από τους κριτικούς, που τονίζουν τη ρεαλιστική ακρίβεια του έργου και την πειστικότητα των νεαρών ερμηνευτών (Τομ Στάριτζ, Χένρι Λόιντ Χιουζ, Τζέσικα Ρέιν). Ως τις 26 Σεπτεμβρίου.[Ματιές στον κόσμο, επιμέλεια: Αγγελική Στουπάκη, Η Καθημερινή, 20/09/2009]

Tom Sturridge (William Carlisle) and Jessica Raine (Lily Cahill) in Punk Rock

Tom Sturridge (William Carlisle) and Jessica Raine (Lily Cahill) in Punk Rock at the Lyric Hammersmith. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Simon Stephens’s remarkable new play overcomes the burden of fortuitous topicality. Dealing as it does with violence in a Stockport school, it is bound to be compared with the case in the headlines last week. But what Stephens is really addressing is the way fear spreads virally amongst the young.

Intriguingly, he takes as his setting the sixth-form library of a high-achieving grammar school. But, however articulate the pupils, they seem plagued by uncertainty as they prepare for mock exams. William is a self-doubting fantasist who befriends newcomer Lilly, only to find she is seeing another boy; bullying Bennett masks his sexual insecurity by humiliating the coldly omniscient Chadwick as well as his girlfriend Cissy. None of these kids, including the muscular Nicholas and the teacher-besotted Tanya, is unduly deprived. Yet, as they conduct their own internal power battles, the threat of violence hangs in the air.

What is good about the play is the way Stephens combines individual portraits with gathering tension. You believe totally in these pupils as people: not least William and Lilly when they engage, as a way of hiding their nervousness, in a competitive contempt for the chavs they see on the Stockport streets. Even the noxious Bennett is driven, if not excused, by doubts about his masculinity. Best of all is Chadwick, who at one point delivers an apocalyptic speech which both squashes his tormentor and skilfully leads one up the garden path. The one false note, in a play based on a compassionate understanding of adolescent angst, comes in a defence of the young which sounds too like an authorial statement.

Punctuated by nerve-jangling bursts of rock by groups like Big Black and Sonic Youth, Sarah Frankcom’s production is riveting to watch and superbly acted. Tom Sturridge, making his professional debut as William (left), intelligently uses his gangling physique to express his inner instability. Jessica Raine as Lilly offers an extraordinary blend of sexual assurance and self-mutilating panic. Henry Lloyd-Hughes as the lordly, bisexual Bennett, Sophie Wu as his panicky girlfriend, and Harry McEntire as the precocious Chadwick, give impeccable performances.

This play, co-produced with Manchester’s Royal Exchange to which it travels next, gets a new regime at the Lyric off to a cracking start. One can’t help contrast it with the earlier import of a musicalised Spring Awakening which attempted to capture the raw agony of youth, only to dwindle into sentimentality. Stephens’s play, given a wonderfully spectral design by Paul Wills, confronts young people as they really are, and builds inexorably towards its tragic and violent climax.

Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith, London

  • Reviewed by Michael Coveney
  • Thursday, 10 September 2009

Simon Stephens’ powerful and compelling new play – which signals a new Lyric Hammersmith regime under Sean Holmes – does not quite deliver what it says on the tin. It’s set in an old, traditional library in a fee-paying grammar school in Stockport and the music by Big Black, the Cows and White Stripes is only punctuation between scenes.

That is probably the point, or comma. The pupils are sixth formers sitting their mock A-level exams, and their number is joined by Jessica Raine’s disturbing, self-harming Lilly, on whom the Hamlet of the reform, Tom Sturridge’s blinking, oddly hair-styled William, immediately fixes.

Stephens is reunited here with his Manchester Royal Exchange director, Sarah Frankcom, with whom he brought his award-winning On the Shore of the Wide Wide World to the National four years ago; it’s a dynamic partnership, and this brilliantly cast and acted play proves both a remarkable link with the Lyric’s musical premiere of Spring Awakening last year and a mission statement of upcoming work for and about young people.

As in the Wedekind play and musical, we see middle-class pupils under peer pressure embroiled in sexual chess-playing and adolescent crisis with ultimately tragic consequences.

It’s no accident that the Columbine High School massacre (echoed on our own doorstep the other week) also centred round a library, a terrifying update on the tradition of school plays stretching from Barry Reckord’s Skyvers at the bottom of the education heap to Julian Mitchell’s Another Country or Alan Bennett’s The History Boys on the brink of future success.

These were not the happiest days of anyone’s life, and it’s a lovely coincidence that Tom Sturridge’s father, the director Charles Sturridge, made his acting debut in Lindsay Anderson’s If…, the first film to prophesy the sort of nightmarish scenario almost commonplace on school and college campuses these days.

Young Sturridge makes an astonishingly assured stage debut as a slightly more neurasthenic Ben Whishaw type, with a bob of unruly hair, a gangling physical expressiveness, a deliberately shaky grasp of his own domestic orientation – one minute he’s an orphan, the next the son of a thriving oil millionaire – and a neat way of knowing that he’s «the cleverest and funniest person in Stockport.»

The other sixth-formers, kitted out in blue blazers and grey slacks or skirts, include the regulation Steerforth school bully, Bennett (done with a wonderful ambiguous coldness by Henry Lloyd-Hughes), whose campaign of belittling sexual taunting is rebuffed by Harry McEntire’s Chadwick, the class swot, with a dazzling rhetorical speech of apocalyptic prophecy that destroys his opponent and wins a round.

Lilly’s arrival is the axis on which the play turns, and Stephens’ sly way of stretching the time span allows for a development of relationships within the group that prosecutes the outcome as the exams loom larger. Settling in, Lilly is drawn to the sexually charismatic figure of the blond muscleman Nicholas – another remarkable stage debut, by Nicholas Banks – while Tanya Gleason’s friendly Tanya and Sophie Wu’s hard-edged Cissy stir the pot by behaving just as you’d expect them to.

Stephens sounds few false notes in giving all of these kids great dialogue and solo riffs, though I did wince at Lilly’s speech about most young people living decent and admirable lives – she started to sound horribly like David Cameron – but I concede that the playwright, an associate director to Holmes at the Lyric, is passionately committed to young people’s theatre. Good for him, and for Holmes, and a great start to the new Lyric campaign.

To 26 September (0871 221 1729; http://www.lyric.co.uk)

Punk Rock at the Lyric, Hammersmith, W6

  • Benedict Nightingale
  • From The Times, September 10, 2009

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Hearing that a teacher has had a heart attack, one of the Stockport sixth-formers who gather in the library where Punk Rock is set isn’t at all surprised. “They wander round like trauma victims,” she says of the staff. “They sweat, they’re getting ulcers, they’re terrified.”

To which the proper response is: no wonder, given the atrocity that comes at the close of Simon Stephens’s cracking new play. Sadly, I mustn’t reveal what this is, only say that it echoes sensational incidents reported from other countries, notably America.

The rationalist in me says that Stephens doesn’t prepare for it too well. Yet the rationalist in me should probably take a walk, because his point is that irrationality, unpredictability, confusion stalk the places frequented by those about to take their A-levels. And that’s why his play might be summed up as The History Boys meeting Spring Awakening, Wedekind’s tale of adolescent alienation and angst — and both of them meeting Stephen King.

The six kids in Sarah Frankcom’s superbly acted production are Britain’s future: bright, in one case maybe brilliant, but also mercurial, turbulent, lost, even despairing. For a long time it seems that the main emphasis will be Jessica Raine’s Lilly, a new arrival who is sharp, sexually smart, a bit cruel and contemptuous, saddled with an alcoholic mum and into self-harm. But as the evening proceeds she moves away from centre-stage, letting us pay more attention to the others, notably Harry McEntire’s small, aloof Chadwick, who is being so bullied and humiliated by Henry Lloyd-Hughes’s casually malicious Bennett that, when he turned, the first-night audience applauded. But that turning is strikingly unusual, consisting as it does of an apocalyptic speech in which he declares that human beings are “pathetic” and, citing flood, famine and much else, prophesises the end of the species. What will be his fate?

But then Stephens has enough command of sassy dialogue and tense situation to keep you wondering as much about his fellow-pupils, especially Sophie Wu’s Cissy, who is scared that her failure to get straight As means she’ll always be stuck in awful Stockport with a reproachful mum, and Tom Sturridge’s William (pictured above left, with Lloyd-Hughes), a lively mind whose fantasies are verging on the delusional, who has the unrequited hots for Lilly and who worryingly combines swank with self-hatred.

Does Stephens explain, say, the Columbine school massacre? No, he doesn’t. He’s too honest to pretend anything of the sort. But he does see the bafflement, the contradictions, the hope, the despair. He’s worried — and so, after seeing his play, should we be.

Box-office: 0871 2211729 to Sept 26

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