All’s right with the world again.
After disagreements over their last two sorties, Talent and Ben Hur Live, the Whinger’s schism has – for the moment – healed. Amelioration was achieved by a theatrical band-aid applied last night at the Lyric Hammersmith: the far from harmonious Punk Rock.
Who said school days are the happiest of your life? Presumably not playwright Simon Stephens. Yes, that’s him, the same writer who had the Whingers in such complete unison with his last effort Harper Regan that they left at the interval in synchronised steps.
But there was to be no scurrying off during the interval of Punk Rock. With the attention-challenged in mind Mr Stephens cunningly has his latest effort whistled through in a very Whinger-friendly 1 hour 50 minutes with no break.
A good start, but it wasn’t the only thing to have the Whingers nodding in approval.
Punk Rock takes place mostly in the very impressive Hogwarts style library (by Paul Wills) of a well heeled school in Stockport where a motley group of sixth formers dominated by posh bully Bennett (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) are about to take their mock A Levels. New girl Lily (Jessica Raine) arrives and catches the heart of charismatic misfit William (Tom Sturridge) but her rejection of him sets the group down a path that ends in violence.
The Whingers didn’t recognise anything from their own school days in this group of confident, articulate teenagers prone occasionally to giving quite long speeches outlining apocalyptic world views. Nobody talked eagerly about last night’s The Two Ronnies or how pointless PE was, but things have probably changed since our day so we set aside our reservations. The only thing we couldn’t quite allow was that everyone would put up with the deeply objectionable behaviour of the bullying Bennett. This credibility gap felt like a big hole in the centre of the play that the Whingers had to walk gingerly around if they were to swallow the story and this they generously did.
Belief also has to be suspended when one of the bright young things is awarded a grade C for her English exam. Don’t they all get 5 or 6 grade As now? Something to do with human rights.
But what really makes Punk Rock stand out is the quality of performances from the depressingly young cast. We very much liked Katie West (invisible on Google) as Tanya (both Whingers remember Tanyas at school) but it is Tom Sturridge (right, son of director Charles Sturridge actress Phoebe Nicholls) who steals the show with a performance of such awesome panache and nuance that it really shouldn’t be missed. Andrew met his auntie once.
It’s all very engrossing. The audience – who were largely even younger than the cast – proved again (think Carrie’s War) that adult audiences (think The Shawshank Redemption) can learn from their youngers and betters. So gripped were they that you could have heard a scrunchie drop.
If it weren’t for the misleading (and still utterly puzzling) title the Whingers could see Punk Rock transferring successfully to the West End.
“Very agreeable” mumbled Andrew as they left the auditorium for the bar. And so it was. The Whingers were once again agreeing. We’ll see how long it lasts.
- One of the (unseen) teachers is called “Eldridge”. Is this a writerly in-joke?
- Although we enjoyed it, we also completely understand where this dissenting review from the former Teenage Theatre Critic is coming from. Interestingly TTC stopped being a teenager very recently and seems to have vaulted straight into his whinging years. They grow up so fast these days, don’t they?