Punk Rock

Punk Rock
By Simon Stephens. ATYP Under the Wharf. Studio 1 (NSW). 25 July- 11 August, 2012.

If judged by the promotional material on ATYP’s website, Punk Rock is very nearly made out to be an angsty teenage drama. However, the title seems to have been more of a philosophical basis for the writer, Simon Stephens. This production is simply outstanding.

The story explores real issues that face any teenager: fitting in with your peers; victimisation and bullying; loyalty and fear. Only in the hands of an enormously talented cast, such as this, could such a layered, compelling script be done justice. It is difficult to go into detail without spoiling any twists or the thrilling climax, but the story uses the familiar high school setting to expose all that is extraordinary and horrifying, without dropping into the absurd.

Director Anthony Skuse has taken this young cast and pushed them to limits of performance that are rarely seen on stage. The hard work of the actors and the perseverance of their voice and dialect coach, Linda Nicholls-Gidley have paid off: not a syllable is discernibly Australian and each character has their own background accent. The audience is absolutely captivated, mesmerised by the immediacy of the characters’ interactions, the chemistry between the actors and the acts of bullying and violence portrayed. Under the direction of Skuse, overlapping dialogue is timed to perfection and pauses are left lingering to great effect.

While the set is kept simple, staging is inventive, using a traverse platform in the centre. One drawback here is that some facial expressions are missed on one side or the other, but this does not detract significantly. It was in fact a comfort to see the matching emotions- horror, elation, anticipation- of the spectators on the opposite side.

Fluorescent lighting adds to the classroom atmosphere, as do the authentic school uniforms, complete with blazers, bags and ties. The occasional use of cigarettes was an excellent touch, creating a hanging fog in the stillness during tense moments.

The sound was overall well done: the sheer volume of the bell was always enough to snap focus and the atmospheric music in the final scene was perfectly chosen. The choice to play the entirety of a Joy Division song at the beginning to quieten the audience and set the mood was effective, but unnecessarily loud.

The story is brilliantly executed in its ups and downs, and (perhaps narrowly) avoids becoming just another teen tale of woe. Nothing is given away too soon and the presence of each actor feels so natural. This is a production ATYP can be proud of.

Lilli Paul

Photographer: Gez Xavier Mansfield.

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