Saturday, August 16, 2014

Lyric Theatre, Punk Rock: Teenage Kicks

Under Selina Cartmell's moshing and incisive direction, it slowly becomes a question of who is the loose trigger in Simon Stephens' play?

Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Aug 14-Sept 6

My review of Punk Rock by Simon Stephens coming up just as soon as I sort you with a second edition of Waverly …

Does rock ‘n’ roll set a bad example for kids? The suspicion drones like a broken record nowadays. Those who grew up with The Undertones and Mudhoney will advocate that between its buzzing strains and raw lyrics, punk music might set a young person on a path towards free-thinking and awareness of societal hierarchies. Meanwhile, critics often single out its aggression. After a punk-infused and kinetic opening to Selina Cartmell’s staging of Punk Rock for the Lyric Theatre, where teenage students throw desks, slide chairs and gesture forcibly as if ready to implode, it soon becomes a question of who is the loose trigger in Simon Stephens' play?

Is it the narcissist William Carlisle (Rhys Dunlop), deflated after his first ever attempt to ask out a girl – the shrewd newcomer Lily Cahill (Lauren Coe)? Is it introverted genius Chadwick Meade (Rory Corcoran), who rocks back and forth in his seat and contemplates the invention of an anti-matter bomb? Or maybe the bully Bennett Francis (Ian Toner), who might fear the loss of his power come graduation day.

Dealt with voices that are over-exacting for teenagers, and a hell of a leap towards a shocking finale, Cartmell - who is often excited by the heightened visual possibilities of a staging - smartly refrains from making further claims for reality in Stephens' play. Rather, Monica Frawley’s elegant library set provides plenty of space for abstract choreography and gestures that hint to interiors - a friendship summarised in the throw a rugby ball; a boy's hidden desires for another tempted by tender contact. 

Similarly, Dunlop has to present the over-stressed William Carlisle but with complex control he understates the character's ego, lending him great credibility. The stateliness of Coe, along with that of Aisha Fabienne Ross and Johan Hauer-King, suggests a worldliness that the town of Stockport is too small for. Meanwhile, the charming Laura Smithers is most convincing and likely to resemble an old classmate. 

It is Toner who often holds the auditorium in suspense as Bennett swings abuse and pushes buttons, to our discomfort. While Chadwick seems to belong to another plane of reality altogether, the tears that Corcoran cries are unmistakably real. 

In the wider context of Stephens' drama, his hometown of Stockport in Manchester regularly becomes a setting to illustrate how senses of belonging can excuse casual cruelty. As a slaughterhouse emerges with echoes of the Columbine massacre, the smouldering gun points towards a need for understanding. Why do we feel the need to consolidate power by oppressing others? In Cartmell's moshing and incisive production, Stephens' plea certainly reverbs.

What did everyone else think?

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