BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
31/08/2017 - 09/09/2017
“Punk Rock is not a musical genre. Punk Rock is not even as simple as a state of mind. Punk Rock is an energy of total interrogation” – Simon Stephens
Punk Rock explores the pressures of teenage life as a group of educated, intelligent young people begin to plan for university 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.
The show runs from the 31st of August – 9th September, 8pm, BATS Theatre, 120mins approx.
31 August – 9 September 2017
8pm, 120mins approx.
(Contains coarse language, gunshots/loud noises, references to suicide, self-harm and violence.)
$20 Full Price | $15 Concession | $14 Group 6+
Purchase tickets here:
(Contains coarse language, gunshots/loud noises, references to suicide, self-harm and violence)
Shauwn Keil plays William Carlisle
Molly Weaver plays Lilly Cahill
Mila Fati plays Bennett Francis
Alexandra Taylor plays Cissy Franks
Maia Diamond plays Nicola Chatman
Ashleigh Low plays Tanya Gleason
Kasey Benge plays Chadwick Meade
Aishani Pole plays Lucy Francis
Annie Ruth plays Dr Judith Harvey
Producer: Ricky Dey
Lighting/Set Design: Glenn Ashworth
Photographer: William Duignan
Production Crew: Charles Masina, Melissa Cooper, Aishani Pole (3rd year students)
A brilliantly realised and coherent work
Review by Patrick Davies 01st Sep 2017
Simon Stephen’s Punk Rock was written almost a decade ago and yet the anguished cry of youth desperate not to be crushed by anonymity and a nihilistic future resounds louder than before. Set in Manchester, it deals with a group of students preparing for their mock A-levels in the library of an English grammar school.
We arrive into this world, as does Lily (Molly Weaver). She meets and becomes an integral member of the gang and through the year as we see their progression through love interests, fights, make-ups, tiffs and the pressures put upon them.
By making this a high-achieving school, Stephens makes his characters very articulate and avoids the easy dead-end world of the British lower class. Part Lord of the Flies, part Spring Awakening (there are even aspects of Heavenly Creatures and The History Boys for good measure), Punk Rock has a vast scope of comedic, tragic, horrific and revelatory moments for the cast to bite into.
The set (uncredited) is a non-naturalistic wall and floor that put the focus on the acting and lights – another wonderful design by Glen Ashworth. Ashworth tends to use mainly sidelights in his productions which gives a beautiful sculptural texture to action onstage. Here subtle shifts (operated by Morgan Diprose) move fluidly, adding tension and release when needed.
The use of packing crates as construct material allows for the warmth of wood, the feeling of a school building past its use-by date and the metaphorical bare bones of the raw emotions displayed by the teens. Avoiding the usual naturalistic set allows for the audience to imagine far more, and provides a playground for the actors to climb all over, hang their bags up, etc.
A raised platform is the main ‘acting area’. It is floored in slick white Perspex creating a blank canvas, a great textural opposition to the wood – and it looks, literally, like a school whiteboard. One could go so far to say that, given it floats on the black floor, which is also utilised extremely well in deft shifts of movement from Director Sam Phillips, it is an iceberg of isolation. It also becomes the isolation room for the encounter between William (Shauwn Keil) and Dr Judith Harvey (Annie Ruth) at the end of the play.
Phillips does an extraordinary job of a very complex text and getting the most out of the actors. Each character is fully rounded with their own suitable physicality which creates a dynamic ensemble. As Whitireia’s Third Year graduation show it is a stellar pick, not only for the age of the actors but the challenge it presents them with. By partnering with BATS Theatre it raises the profile of Whitireia Performing Arts and puts these young artists on a stage we hope they will come to call home.
Each of the actors find the humanity in their respective role leading to adroit and fully realised performances. There some moments, very few moments, when inexperience lets the ball drop – I’m not convinced of the malice in the bullying of Chadwick (Kasey Benge) by Bennett (Mila Fati); there seems to be more endowment of the malice from the other actors. And diction is a continuous problem.
The accents vary. In full disclosure, I have worked with Accent Coach Hilary Norris on two productions and it is easy to see who has put the work in and who, unfortunately, hasn’t. Annie Ruth’s English/New Zealand accent for Dr Harvey is like the lack of cell phones throughout the play, a little odd, but of little consequence.
Dr Harvey is a male in the play and this gender swop highlights how easy it is and how little it can affect the overall production. The gender swop of Nicholas to Nichola (ideally crafted by Maia Diamond) is another story all together. Lily’s first scene with William is charmingly funny for it’s undercurrent of sexuality as William is obviously enthralled by Lily. It’s a great and somewhat mawkish scene which Keil and Weaver play off each other beautifully.
It also sets up the oppositions that Stephens is so adept at writing – both characters are extremely articulate except in articulating their desires and wants. Again and again this ‘mis-timing’ of inarticulateness reflects our hits and misses in everyday life, after all the school and this play is the micro to our macrocosm, and the collision of these moments is reflected in the materials of the set.
Later Lily partners up with Nicholas/Nichola. In the hetero version our focus could sit mainly on the male vs. male for the female effect on William. In this production it hits far harder, and in a more resounding way, that William not only deals with rejection but with an incredible mis-reading of the initial conditions, leading not only to further isolation but also an emasculation. Keil’s lithe performance as the fantasist is finely balanced with some shocked stillness that ramps up the tension.
As I say, each actor shines, but intellectual Chadwicke Meade as played by Kasey Benge is simply stunning. Benge is wise to underplay him, against the racket; a clear-sighted rendering of a young gay man who can see this world more clearly than the others can, with the possible exception, ironically, of William.
To be fair it is the most attractive part, in that he’s written as the obvious outsider, the victim of Bennet’s abuse, and gets a killer monologue that still sounds like clarion call. In current times, this eight-year-old speech is chilling in its prophetic accuracy. While the play teeters around the nihilistic view of the future, Chadwicke is our pragmatist who will survive anything.
Sam Phillips’ direction is equal to the complex and rich text. While there are times when the actors’ intellectual reading of the work needs to be balanced by their focus on their physical work, so that the body is equal to the motivations clearly displayed, this is still a brilliantly realised and coherent work. At the shocking climax, you can feel the audience holding its breath, and the tension so delicately worked on prior, pays off in abundance.
While other grad productions can sometimes focus on style, this also has loads of substance.
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