Review: Punk Rock by Harlow Theatre Company

Lifestyle / Thu 17th Sep 2015 at 07:08am

Punk Rock: review
By Harry Tennison

Simon Stephens’ play opened this evening at Victoria Hall, opening the new season of theatre from Harlow Theatre Company. Jane Miles returns to direct Punk Rock, detailing the tumultuous time for eight sixth form students in a grammar school in Stockport.

Some would say it’s the job of the critic, especially in local theatre, to assess simply the production and not the script itself: but I am not one of those people. Stephens’ script lacks really much of merit. It’s early scenes, attempting to create some form of attachment for the characters in the play, fall flat and the escalatory tone – especially in the second half – makes the entire play, as a whole, seem implausible and false. Whilst there were some funny jokes – “it’s f…ing Kanye West” – it failed to hammer home it’s overall message, that teenagers were “nervous about thinking” but had the power to do so, instead favouring a brutal ending that depicted the discourse of the kind of plays about teenagers that teenagers tend to hate.

Nevertheless, there were some good performances amongst the cast which kept the piece going. Rhys Hayes, who starred as William Carlisle, managed to make a striking contrast from his awkwardly funny portrayal in the first scene, to the finale.

Tom Williams was strong as Nicholas Chatman and possessed some superb coming timing, whilst Carrie-Lee Stevens (Cissy Franks) was a good foil to the detestable Bennett Francis, played by Jake Hanham. Clive Weatherly offered a caring and experienced portrayal of Dr Richard Harvey, caring for Carlisle in the final scene.

Paul Johnson’s design was simple and worked well, particularly his dialogue with lighting designer Jared Greenhall which led to an innovative idea in having flashing bulbs accompanied by 70s punk music during scene transitions. Miles’ decision to perform the play without an interval did make it harder to follow elements of the plot, but I’m not convinced this would have been much easier given Stephens’ script in the first instance.

The young cast of Punk Rock managed to perform an entertaining, albeit challenging, production despite the inadequacies of the initial source material. Miles’ direction was solid and the overall design worked well, although some scene changes were too long and clunky. But showings such as these do, at least, offer us more hope for the longstanding future of amateur theatre in Harlow.

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