Friday, August 3, 2012

Punk Rock

Pantsguys Productions and atyp Under the wharf present the Australian Premiere of
Punk Rock Trailer 2012 from Kathy Luu on Vimeo.

PUNK ROCK by Simon Stephens at the atyp Theatre Wharf 4 Hickson Rd.

PUNK ROCK by Simon Stephens, produced by Pantsguys Productions as part of atyp Under the Wharf season is the best evening I have had at the theatre this year. Go.

Simon Stephens is a British playwright that I have admired for some time. The fact that he has never appeared on any of our major stages in Australia, except by a German company as part of an Arts festival (PORNOGRAPHY, 2007), is an astounding, astonishing fact. Most, if not all of his plays are set in Stockport, Greater Manchester. But that city is simply a metaphoric setting for the universal dilemmas of our contemporary world. In this suburb, in regional Great Britain, is the contemporary human world. I was first drawn to his prize winning writing with ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD (2005). The Griffin Independent gave us HERONS (2001) a few years back; some one up there, has also presented MOTORTOWN (2006) as well; PORT (2O02) was presented in a severely edited version last year at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), as a graduating production for some of its students - the play's power and music diminished dramatically by the elisions. THREE KINGDOMS (2011) is his latest work. BLUEBIRD (1998), his first, still waiting to be done, in Sydney.

PUNK ROCK was first performed in London, in 2009. It is set in Stockport.It is set in a private public school for the advantaged. It is set in a library. Eight, final year students, hormones buzzing, are preparing for trials for final exams. The personal pressures are enormous, if, hidden beneath the social veneers of the students. Success at these exams represent escape from provincial Stockport, some fantasising about Cambridge or Oxford as destinations to aim for. Because these students are privileged does not exclude them from the buffets of life from family histories and expectations. Does not exclude them from the pressures of the world of sex and intellectual jealousies and envies. It does not exclude them from the pressure of institution and peer bullying. Does not exclude them from grotesque imaginings and fancies. Does not exclude them from delusional wants. Does not protect them from the conventions, inventions, and fractures of an ever evolving world.

Anthony Skuse has directed this production with meticulous and sophisticated care. The text has been managed with close and accurate reading. Every word and phrase counting, it seemed, to reveal in the sentence structures, character, circumstances, plot and thematics without pointed, obvious directorial dictate. No Director's finger prints all over this work.The writer at the centre of the enterprise. Much honour is given Mr Stephens and it pays off in spades. The detailed drawing of the subtle character development and the weighty screwing up of naturalistic tension throughout the scene storytelling is spellbinding and cumulatively awesome.

Mr Skuse, has, with his usual skill (see, LORD OF THE FLIES), drawn from this company of actors, Gabriel Fancourt, Paul Hooper, Darcie Irwin Simpson, Madeline Jones, Owen Little, Rebecca Martin, Graeme McRae, Clement Mills and Sam O'Sullivan, truly, creatively disciplined performances. Each actor demarcates their creation with psychological insight and a deceptively simple delineation of physical individuality and at the same time a sensitive antenna of ensemble delicacy and awareness that collectively convinces of the truthful, reality of this story.

Mr O'Sullivan, as William Carlisle, is mesmerising in his intrinsically clever revelations of character, steady with the contradictions and delicate in the signalling of danger. His scenes with Ms Simpson, as Lily Cahill, are enormously empathetically concentrated by both. The naturalness of both is disconcerting - their ease with the intimacy of the characters' developments almost embarrassing to watch. The 'stupid' behaviour of a sexually unsure Bennett (Mr McRae) is edgy and rife with unpredictability, the actor at ease with his gangly physicalities, and assured about what he is telling us, moment to moment. Mr Fancourt draws a sensitive, diversely amusing and intellectually confident young man, Chadwick Meade, despite the pressures of bullying going on about him. Mr Little (Nicholas Chapman) and Ms Jones (Cissy Franks) draw power from smaller roles.

The set design (Gez Xavier Mansfield) is stripped to efficient necessities - pragmatic rather than atmospheric : study tables and plastic chairs with a table of books, all, on a shabby carpet. The lighting, fluorescent, bright and merciless, supported by some small theatrics for colour (Sara Swersky), and the costumes of school uniform add to the bleak reality of school. Dialect work by Linda Nicholls-Gidley adds authenticity and conviction to the world of the play - no need to localise. The sound design a little too heavy handed- too 'punk' and not very useful in the story or even atmospheric development.

All of Mr Stephens' plays deal with the pressures of the modern world on the individual. In Stockport, in whatever play you might choose of his, an individual driven to psychopathic actions, arise. Here, in the classroom of PUNK ROCK too, a dreadful thing happens. Even amongst these so called advantaged young adults. Indeed, food for thought.

CHADWICK: Human beings are pathetic. Everything human beings do finishes up bad in the end. Everything good human beings ever make is built on something monstrous. Nothing lasts. We certainly won't. We could have made something really extraordinary and we won't. We've been around one hundred thousand years. We'll have died out before the next two hundred. You know what we've got to look forward to? You know what will define the next two hundred years? Religions will become brutalised; crime rates will become hysterical; everybody will become addicted to Internet sex; suicide will become fashionable; there'll be famine; there'll be floods; there'll be fires in the major cities of the Western world. Our education systems will become battered. Our health systems unsustainable; our police forces unmanageable; our governments corrupt. There'll be open brutality in the streets; there'll be nuclear war; massive depletion of resources on every level; insanely increasing third-world population. It's happening already. It's happening now. Thousands die every summer from floods in the Indian monsoon season. Africans from Senegal wash up on the beaches of the Mediterranean and get looked after by guilty liberal holidaymakers. Somalians wait in hostels in Malta or prison islands north of Australia. Hundreds die of heat or fire every year in Paris.Or California. or Athens. The oceans will rise. The cities will flood. The power stations will flood. Airports will flood. Species will vanish for ever. Including ours. So if you think I'm worried by you calling me names, Bennett, you little, little boy, you are fucking kidding yourself.
 BENNETT: Blimey.
That's a bit bleak, Chadwick. 
CISSY: I don't believe that.
CHADWICK: You should do. 
CISSY: We can educate each other.
CHADWICK: We don't.
CISSY: We can change things.
CHADWICK: We can't.

From the mouths of children.

Bleak, but a good and relevant play. I sat in the atyp theatre, with an almost paralyzed audience, holding our breath, in 'tribal' concentration, in a cold space beneath the theatres belonging to the Sydney Theatre Company and wondered why that company had showing THE HISTRIONIC by Thomas Bernhard and not this play. What relevance did THE HISTRIONIC have, that trumped this play in the curating decisions for Sydney theatre goers, I wondered.

PUNK ROCK is a good play, inspirationally directed, wonderfully acted by a young fledgling company of young professionals, really showing the major companies in this city, what should be done and how to do it. Don't miss it. What, with this and THE SEAFARER at the Darlinghurst, the Independent Theatre scene shows the way, like a beacon, that has been, relatively lost with the bigger subsidised so-called leaders of the Performing Arts. In this city, at least.

P.S. : At a running time of two and a quarter hours without interval, beginning on time would be a good idea.
An interval would even be better. 7.30 till 10pm is a stretch of the bladder, let alone concentration, (the bladder can become quite a distraction) no matter what age you are.

An interesting debate in the pages of the magazine STAGE WHISPERS : An Interval or not an Interval, has been in discussion.
Our endorphins (when you see the play you'll get the reference) would create a better reception to the evening, having been relieved, I can assure you, pantsguys. Discuss.


Gustavo B said...

Amazing, a must see!

Unknown said...

Could not agree more, KJ. This and The Seafarer are both testament to what happens when a fine author is respected, a play is well cast and a director knows their job description intimately.
“The Director's Role: You are the obstetrician. You are not the parent of this child we call the play. You are present at its birth for clinical reasons, like a doctor or midwife. Your job most of the time is simply to do no harm”
― Frank Hauser
Not one piece of unnecessary "business" was added to either of these plays. It's just a shame that this approach has almost become revolutionary lately.

Arthur Brickman said...

I've heard about Punk Rock (though I haven't been able to watch it), and it renewed my respect for Mr. Stephens. Unoriginality accusations aside, this play is by far one of his best, a welcome deviant from the usual bits of kids running around and singing about love and all that.