Writer: Simon Stephens
Director: Lisa Gregan
Reviewer: Julia Beasley
A group of sixth formers hangs out in the library of a private school. They’re facing mock A-level exams and feeling under pressure to perform. Personality cracks soon begin to develop. Ultimately the weakest link will break, with devastating and gory consequences.
This dramatic piece by the Bristol Old Vic Young Company features a cast who seem close in age to the characters they portray, which lends realism to the drama. The seven posh kids in Year 13 are privileged, middle-class teenagers who have been sent to a fee-paying school in order to succeed academically and go to university. But these are mostly not well-rounded, politically aware or emotionally literate individuals.
The boys in particular display an innate sense of brutish superiority, look down on chavs and treat each other appallingly. One is a paranoid fantasist, another a sadistic bully who abuses his simpering girlfriend, picks on the quiet kid (who thankfully happens to be a genius) and wouldn’t be out of place in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Thankfully, like most teenagers, they are also concerned about sex, relationships and the state of the planet.
The play is billed as a damning reflection on the current exam-factory culture. True, the characters worry that their parents will kill them if they get less than an A grade. However this play doesn’t quite manage to be a biting political drama, and often seems rather dated – no awareness of social media, feminism, LGBT or disability rights.
The title comes from the punk rock music that punctuates the change from one scene to the next. This is an indication of the characters’ inner emotional turmoil, fury and rebellion despite their staid and class-bound surroundings. The music helps intensify the drama: the pressure builds, and a plot twist means that everything ends very badly indeed.
Unfortunately for the audience, the play makes heavy viewing despite some energetic performances. The characters constitute what must be the least chilled group of teenagers in England. Two hours of intense and aggressive script delivered in staccato style is quite hard to watch, not helped by the lack an intermission. Whoever said that school days are the best time of your life, obviously had not seen Punk Rock.
Runs until 13 January 2018 | Image: Contributed