Punk Rock (Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, 11th October 2009)
I saw some excellent theatre this week. Having seen The Caucasian Chalk Circle in Leeds, The Trial in York earlier in the week and now Punk Rock in Manchester, I feel that I have experienced the best of theatre and what’s great is that it isn’t all happening in London.
When I read on notices around the auditorium that there won’t be an interval, I usually assume that the play will build up tension through to a dramatic conclusion and having an interval will undermine that tension. So when I read notices about the running time of Punk Rock at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, I was thinking that this production would build to a dramatic ending and I wasn’t disappointed. I must say Punk Rock really worked well without an interval, and I’m not sure where you would have put an interval if you’d had one anyway. Indeed, even without an interval the time rushed by as the dialogue kept me totally engaged. I felt that I started to get to know a set of characters, which at the start of the play, I felt I would not like much. For example, I started to feel for the endearing complex William (Tom Surridge) with his heart broken by the rather self-assured, on the surface, Lilly (Jessica Raine). The writing took time to build up the situation and characters. I found I wanted to laugh when it wasn’t really funny and at the end I had to remind myself, I was in a theatre as I found myself believing I was in the library with the characters.
In Punk Rock we are presented with a group of young people who were struggling with the pressures of being young. As a group they were grappling with a range of emotions, their sexual awakening, concerns about body image, and high academic expectations. There is a pressure to succeed and the sense that an education is the key to a better future, but the effects of this pressure have not been though through. The play carefully and sensitively dealt with some of these issues and we see characters dealing with it in many ways such as self harming, rage, self confidence and through knowledge being a defence mechanism. It felt that the setting was timeliness and the title made me think of teenagers in the late 1970s but the mention of White Stripes brings the story up to date. Whatever generation these young people are part of, the play seemed to suggest that the late mid teenage years bring with them a set of emotional pressures that are compounded by society’s expectation of our young people.
This was a shocking, startling and shattering story that is still with me today as I write about it here in my blog.
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