When someone inevitably tells you that Punk Rock, by British playwright Simon Stephens, is ‘like The History Boys’, don’t listen to them. If you go into Punk Rock expecting it to be like The History Boys, you’re setting yourself up for a mental breakdown.
You’ve got your sixth form set up, you’ve got your smart-arse 17 year olds, you’ve got your teenage angst and paranoia. So far so Alan Bennett. But there’s also a big helping of violent psychosis, megalomaniacal bullying and enough apocalyptic foretelling to push you to an existential breakdown.
So with all its addressing of “issues”, a production of Punk Rock has the potential to end up like a particularly disturbing GCSE drama performance. Luckily for us, Leeds University TG’s production masterfully avoids this gaping pitfall. Directors Daisy Fernandez and Beatrice Lawrence, along with producer Sammy Gooch, rarely miss a beat. Jack Baxter as the psychopathic bully Bennett Francis hits his character’s moments of comedy perfectly, strutting about about the stage and spitting insults in a delicious plum-mouthed drawl. Though there is something missing from Bennett’s most extreme moments of terrorisation; he’s just not evil enough. There seem to be too many “f*cks” and “c*nts” in the script for the actors to get their mouths around, and you’re left feeling a little uncomfortable for those on stage.
Otherwise the production copes very well with a script which could occasionally let them down. Nick Bechman As Chadwick Meade is exceptional, his every twitch and syllable laden with pent-up tension. His character’s rambling speech about the coming demise of the human race could be painfully indulgent in the hands of a less skilled actor. Yet Bechman is absolutely blistering. The moments when the whole cast are on stage fizzle with tension, their interaction exhilarating to witness. The directors avoid swelling the emotional scenes with too much pomp, allowing touching and understated moments of revelation.
What Punk Rock demonstrates so clearly is the intense sense of self-importance intelligent teenagers possess: you find yourself despising these dangerously self-centred, privileged young people. Yet knowingly or not, it is a damning portrait of ourselves. So as you laugh along to the characters mocking the shell-suited, single-parent shoppers of Stockport town centre, consider the rapidly reducing gap between yourself and the caricatures in front of you. Let’s just hope we don’t end up like our onstage counterparts.
Featrured image: Leeds University Union Theatre Group