Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

27/06/2015 - 18/07/2015

Production Details


Featuring: Hamish Annan, Taylor Barrett, Andrew Coshan, Sinead Fitzgerald, Ross Johnston, Jared Kirkwood, Ailis Oliver-Kerby, Ripeka Templeton and Lana Walters 

Fortune Theatre is proud to collaborate with the University of Otago Theatre Studies Programme on the South Island premiere of Punk Rock by award-winning playwright, Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime).

PUNK ROCK is Simon Stephens’ most successful play to date. It was a major hit for the Lyric Hammersmith in London, and Manhattan Class Company went on to produce a sell-out season on Broadway: 

“…a marvelous young cast that dares to go places most grown-ups like to forget exist” – NY Times 

Based on the playwright’s experience as a teacher, the play explores the underlying tensions and potential violence in a group of affluent, articulate seventeen-year-old students.

Director Lara Macgregor said, “The desire to tackle the themes prevalent in this script and the idea of working in collaboration with the University of Otago formed a perfect synergy. There are nine characters in the play, four of which are cast with third year theatre students, alongside professional actors from around the country. The remaining third year theatre students are interning across all departments at the theatre – wardrobe, set, marketing, education and production. In unison, we’re about to bring to life this riveting new work, which is both funny and shocking, and sadly, all too familiar.”

Powerful and compelling, Punk Rock explores the pressures of teenage life as a group of educated, intelligent young people begin to plan for college and the rest of their lives. When a new classmate arrives, suddenly friendships are tested and allegiances shift amidst the pressures of everyday adolescence.

With hormones raging and minimal adult supervision, nothing can mask the underlying and increasing tension in the group. These privileged grammar school students are suddenly faced with a very real danger that could swallow them whole.

“A stark, bracing and eventually brutal portrait of adolescent relationships” – Daily Express 

Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin
Production Dates:  27 June – 18 July, 2015
Performances:  Tuesday, 6.00pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 7.30pm, Sunday, 4.00pm  (no show Monday) 
Tickets:  Gala (first 5 shows) $34, Adults $42, Senior Citizens $34, Members $32, Tertiary Students $20, High School Students $15, Group discount (10 +) $34
Bookings:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin 
Box Office 03 477 8323 or visit www.fortunetheatre.co.nz 

WARNING: Contains coarse language, loud noises and mature content. 


Lunchtime Bites / Thursday, 18 June meet at 12.15pm in the Dunedin Public Library, ground floor. The actors will perform an excerpt from Punk Rock with an opportunity to win tickets. Reading will commence at 12.30pm followed by afternoon tea. This is a FREE event.

Opening Night / Saturday, 27 June 7.30pm, Fortune Theatre.

Members’ Briefing / Sunday, 28 June meet at the Fortune bar at 3.00pm and join Fortune Theatre Artistic Director Lara Macgregor and Designer Marty Roberts for a lively informal chat about Punk Rock.

Forum / Tuesday, 30 June – join the cast and crew for an open question and answer session following the 6.00pm show.

Hamish Annan, Taylor Barrett, Andrew Coshan, Sinead Fitzgerald, Ross Johnston, Jared Kirkwood, Ailis Oliver-Kerby, Ripeka Templeton, and Lana Walters

Writer:  Simon Stephens
Director:  Lara Macgregor
Directing Intern:  Jordan Dickson 
Production Manager:  Lindsay Gordon 
Production Manager Intern:  David Scott 
Set Designer:  Martyn Roberts 
Set Consultant/Builder:  Peter King 
Lighting Designer:  Martyn Roberts
Lighting and Set Intern:  Macmillan Veitch 
Costume Designer:  Maryanne Wright-Smyth 
Costume Intern:  Georgia Davenport 
Stage Manager:  Monique Webster 
Properties:  George Wallace  

Theatre ,

1 hr 45 mins (no interval)

Topical, shocking dissection of society

Review by Barbara Frame 29th Jun 2015

The Fortune Theatre’s new play bursts on to the stage as riotously as its title promises – but it would be a mistake to expect Punk Rock to be any sort of musical.

When newcomer Lilly, confident but brittle, joins senior students hanging out in a school library, she quickly disturbs the group’s equilibrium.

These are intelligent, articulate 17-year-olds at an English fee-paying school and their futures seem bright.

Under the surface, though, all is not well and complicated relationships, parental expectations, exam terrors, sexual anxieties, bullying and fear of societal and environmental decay combine to produce a state of mounting tension in which something horrifying can, and does, happen.

Award-winning Simon Stephens is one of Britain’s sharpest playwrights.

Like his other plays, Punk Rock uncompromisingly dissects modern society.

The Fortune’s production, directed by Lara Macgregor, is the result of a successful collaboration with the University of Otago’s theatre studies programme, which has provided some of the actors and six backstage interns.

The eight parts are distinctive and challenging, requiring Midlands accents and perfect timing, and every performance is brilliant and finely nuanced: Ripeka Templeton as self-harming Lilly, Jared Kirkwood as charming but insecure William, Taylor Barrett as domineering Bennett, Hamish Annan as tormented Chadwick, delivering a withering state-of-the-world jeremiad, Andrew Coshan as Nicholas, Ailis Oliver Kerby as Cissy, Lana Walters as Tanya, Sinead Fitzgerald as Lucy and Ross Johnston as Dr Richard Harvey.

Martin Robert’s set brings back school as we all remember it (the lockers, the radiators, the door closers) and in the play’s last minutes turns suddenly and unexpectedly into something else.

Punk Rock is topical, shocking and unforgettable.

Language and events make it unsuitable for children, younger teenagers or anyone who is easily upset.

For everyone else and especially those interested in serious contemporary drama, I strongly recommend it.


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A chance to understand them: so beautiful, so evil, so vulnerable

Review by Terry MacTavish 28th Jun 2015

Gut-wrenching, gob-smacking, mind-blowing – Punk Rock, the latest in the Fortune’s great True Grit series, is altogether visceral theatre. How could it be other, when it authentically delves into that thrilling and dangerous time we call adolescence? When body and brain send crazily confused but utterly compelling commands that must be acted on without thought? 

My guest tonight is a Deputy Principal (not local!), well accustomed to disciplining this unpredictably unstable age-group. She laughs and gasps with the rest, but nods vigorously at both the hilarious and the horrific, nudging me to mutter, “I had a kid say/do just that” – marvellous stories that I alas am forbidden to repeat, all of them attesting to the truth of Simon Stephens’ script. 

This fierce Fortune production, meticulously directed by Lara Macgregor, who has remarkable empathy with the desperate young, does full justice to a stunning play. It is an innovative collaboration between the professional theatre and University of Otago Theatre Studies that deserves to be wildly successful. Certainly the opening night audience is rapturous.

Five of the actors are experienced professionals, and the skills of the University students have been honed to the requisite sharpness, while those not cast have had the enviable opportunity of working as interns with the Fortune’s team of technical experts, which includes master illuminator and set wizard Martyn Roberts, under production manager Lindsay Gordon.

The set is an instantly recognisable school study, although it is in Stockport, Manchester: industrial green with messy shelves, broken lockers, scattered chairs and tables, and the huge dirty windows set too cruelly high for a child to feel anything but imprisoned. When the fluorescent lights are ominously flicked off in one frightening scene, the superbly designed flow of light from those windows, and under the swing doors to the outside world, is mesmerisingly lovely.

The violent bursts of sound are hardly lovely but, as the title no doubt indicates, replicate the chaos of bursting minds. Punk is not just music after all – over time it has covered everything from prostitute to young criminal, options this feral bunch may well explore, deceptively attired though they are in cute school uniforms by Maryanne Wright-Smyth. Under Monique Webster’s stage management, the actors themselves perform the cunningly choreographed set changes, at break-neck speed. 

The sheer animal energy of the cast is utterly exhilarating. Director Macgregor has capitalised on this, from the screaming entry leading to an aggressive confrontation of the audience, to the absolutely shocking denouement. Each actor quickly establishes their character as more than the easy school stereotypes of nerd, bully, cool kid… 

First to seize our attention is William, who seems the most accessible, chatty and likeable member of the group – an engaging fantasist, giving absurd and funny advice alarmingly fast to new girl Lilly, whose arrival will trigger a chain reaction leading inexorably to a devastating climax. Delightfully manic but controlled, Jared Kirkwood gives a riveting performance as William, from start to finish. 

Unchallenged boss of the group is Bennett, played as a swaggering, boastful, bully boy by Taylor Barrett, with a physicality that is fearless and impressive. Watch for his capture of the wasp! 

More low-key but similarly convincing is Andrew Coshan’s portrayal of handsome Nicholas, fancied by all and hence with less need to put himself forward.  

Hamish Annan is intriguingly different as brilliant, persecuted Chadwick, his apparent autism perhaps foreshadowing Stephens’ much-lauded play of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Annan’s handling of the declamatory speech on the dire state of the universe is exemplary.

Bennett’s tag-along girlfriend is played by Ailis Oliver-Kerby, a stand-out even in this physically able group as a lovely fluid mover taking full advantage of the possibilities offered by the set. (Funny though, as a New Zealander I am really bothered nowadays to see bottoms on tables!)

As her ‘fat’ friend, the more sympathetic Tanya, Lana Walters is a real charmer, ensuring her fate is of genuine concern to the audience. 

Ripeka Templeton gives an immaculate performance as Lilly, with cut-glass accent and fake – sorry, faux – fur coat, making even her self-harm seem an action of confident and impudent strength. Sinead Fitzgerald rounds out the cast appealingly in a minor role. 

Stephens is an admirer of Chekhov, and certainly his writing is wonderfully naturalistic, but if I have a criticism of the script it is that Punk Rock takes the male viewpoint. The girls who are attractive are seen as invulnerable: more Gregory’s Girl than The Seagull. The girls are sexual objects to the boys, friendship from them is disdained and the scene in which they talk alone centres round their body image: “I’m so fat,” squeals Cissy, squeezing imaginary rolls from visible ribs, and her distress over getting a B instead of an A appears merely silly, while the boys’ ambitions are treated seriously.  

Although this is the bright group, preparing for Mock exams before applying to top universities, there is surprisingly little reference to what they are actually learning, apart from Chadwick’s Maths riffs and William’s disarming admission that he prefers one teacher “because I find his classroom management skills rather bracing”. Perhaps the play would be richer still if the ideas of some poet were imbedded – William Blake springs to mind: Songs of Innocence and of Experience show how clearly Blake too understood the shock and terror of adolescence; a time of loss as much as gain. 

But there is no time to ponder what more the play might have been. The pace never lets up, except for equally gripping sudden awkward silences, and it is enough that we are held spellbound by the drama inexorably unfolding, the betrayals and the brutality.

Macgregor’s brilliantly bold use of space is everywhere apparent and uncompromising, from convincingly violent assaults and pretty explicit sexual shenanigans, to choreographed group action, like the inspired blocking for the pivotal moment when one of the worms turns, fiercely denouncing his tormenter as a “little, little boy” in a cathartic scene that has the audience actually cheering.

With no interval, the tension mounts steadily, not reduced but enhanced by the moments of crazy humour, and during the almost unbearably protracted climax, my reviewer’s pen is still: I dare not take my eyes from the stage for a split second. Direction, acting, and technical effects are beyond praise at this point. I shudder to think how easily the incredible impact of the play could be destroyed by any slip-up now. There is none. 

The introduction of a new character, Dr Richard Harvey, in the concluding scene, is a bold decision by the playwright, but it gives us the crucial perspective to consider just how society copes with the consequences of adolescent angst. Bringing to mind the beleaguered psychiatrist in Equus, experienced actor Ross Johnston plays the role of Harvey to perfection, delivering a subtle performance that hints at hidden depths.

It’s not that this territory hasn’t been traversed before. Punk Rock reminds me of a comedy of menace play of the 60s or 70s by David Campton, called Class Play, and even the contemporary (but set in the 70s) TV series, Puberty Blues. But that is the point. Each new generation, of teenagers or parents and teachers, has to confront the potentially horrific impact of puberty.  It doesn’t matter that the scene is not set in New Zealand. Whenever and wherever Punk Rock plays, there will have been something in the news to make it hideously relevant.

This time a year ago I was reeling in shock over the online video posted by the local paper, of 15 year old girls delivering vicious kicks to another cowering on the ground. It is actually a relief now to see such horrors tackled responsibly by our own theatre, in a courageous production that is dazzling, compelling and (I fear) unforgettable.

I am glad to see in the programme, along with Alister McDonald’s informative notes on Stephens, calm advice from Youthline Otago. Maybe Nigel Latta is right when he says teenagers are f**ked in the head. But as Punk Rock suggests, the off-stage parents and teachers have quite a bit to do with this. If you are a teen, or know one, please, please seize this marvellous chance the Fortune offers to try to understand them: so beautiful, so evil, so vulnerable.


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