Anarchy in the North West

Class distinction: Ed Franklin as Bennett Francis and Katie West as Tanya Gleason Pictures: Helen Maybanks

Punk Rock  

Birmingham Rep


WITH the Tory party conference in town, arriving at Birmingham Rep was something of an adventure in itself. Police marksmen prowled the rooftops and security guards formed a bullish gauntlet.  An intriguing marriage indeed - Conservative party leaders in one building, a play entitled Punk Rock in the next. Johnny Rotten would have been proud.

Simon Stephens' new play premiered at the Lyric theatre, Hammersmith in 2009 and now tours as a co – production with Manchester Royal Exchange theatre. Stephens has a short but acclaimed back catalogue , including the Olivier award winning Shore of the Wide World.

Punk Rock is set within the oak panelled walls of a private school in Stockport. Yes . . . Stockport. The Cheshire town is actually given something of a roasting by the students. Though it's ‘not as bad as Hull' remarks one of them. So there's two northern towns off the tour list!

A simple but imposing set of a Harry Potteresque' library provides a suitably grand backdrop to the classroom scenes in front of it. Scenes are punctuated by  snap-to-black lighting  and cranked up, discordant guitar riffs which ironically for a play called Punk Rock veer more towards more modern guitar led bands like The White Stripes and The Stooges than the bands more associated with the Punk era. it's a clever choice though (as supporting music should be , but often isn't )and its rather distorted , aggressive sound tied in perfectly with the sharp and sometimes brutal dialogue. Everything is done at pace – cues are bang on and dialogue is bounced around with real fizz , creating youthful energy and , when called for, real tension.

There are nods to Lyndsay Anderson's classic satire of public school life, If and indeed, a tale of assorted students in a posh school environment is nothing new.  Think History Boys' and even Harry Potter. The students here are an assortment of characters and are no different to students from any background. There's the bully. The  nerd.  The hunk. The  nice one. The tart with a heart. The quirky one. Stereotypes ,maybe, but no less real.


To outline the events as they unfold would be to give too much  away and it would be wrong to spoil the considerable tension that Stephens creates as the action progresses. Suffice to say, the shift in Act Two is considerable.

Performances from the young cast are strong throughout. Rupert Simonian is excellent as the off centre, almost child like William. Laura Piper teases with ease as the new student Lilly and Ruth Milne makes an impressive professional stage debut as Cissy. Edward Franklin as Bennett is superb as the bully hiding behind his own sexual issues and Nicholas Banks (pictured above) oozes natural charm as Nicholas. Mike Noble gives a measured performance as the likeable but pilloried boffin of the class, Chadwick and Katie West shines as  perhaps the most appealing character – Tanya.  Juliet York and Simon Wolfe complete the cast. 

As might be expected in a play about teenagers , the language is at times ‘ fruity'. Most Anglo-Saxon favourites are in here and it's mostly in context . At times, though, it seemed as though profanity was used purely to get a laugh (which it did on this particular night from a party of young males in particular ). A shame when so many of the genuinely funny lines are so well written and do not feature the f- word. Don't get me wrong – I'm no prude but there are times, perhaps, when less is more. 

An exciting and thought provoking evening of new , dynamic theatre. I urge you to give it a go. 

Tom Roberts  


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