Re-review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith

“I sometimes think I’m the best person in this town”

Returning to the Lyric Hammersmith for a two week run before a national tour, Punk Rock premiered a year ago to great success and introduced me to great performances from the likes of Tom Sturridge and Henry Lloyd-Hughes, but particularly Jessica Raine who is tearing up the stage at the National in Earthquakes in London and is my tip for great things in the near future. It is the same production team here but with a rejigged cast, three originals remain with a sea of new faces, two of whom are making their professional stage debuts.

Set in a private school in Stockport and following some sixth-formers over a few months as they deal with the pressures of mock A-Levels and the tantalising glimpse of university and the freedom from their current life it offers. It sweeps over a range of teen issues, bullying both by text and physically, inappropriate crushes, fears about the future and university, sexual confusion, self-harming, in an impressive manner, never lingering too long on any but not patronising them either as the relationships between them become the focal point as we reach the shocking climax.

Looking back at my original review, it’s interesting how much I was influenced by the audience. It was full of teenagers and even now my abiding memory of the show is just being appalled at their behaviour, so it was nice to experience with a (sadly quite small) well behaved crowd at Saturday’s matinée. Paul Wills’ design is highly atmospheric: a dark imposing circular library with towering shelves and remarkable depth, the action is played on tables and chairs upfront but it is a most effective backdrop with bursts of music by the likes of Sonic Youth and the White Stripes punctuating the scene changes.

Rupert Simonian did an excellent job as William, shepherding us through this minefield of hormones and unexploded tensions, capturing his quicksilver mood swings well and delivering the climax most effectively: at times, he reminded me of a young Martin Freeman. Laura Pyper as Lilly was all kinds of brilliant with an intriguing performance full of energy and curiosity: it just annoys me that her character is given so little to do in the second half of the play.

Edward Franklin as Bennett didn’t quite capture the requisite convincing menace as bullyboy Bennett but I couldn’t get Henry Lloyd-Hughes’ performance out of my head so I’m probably unfairly comparing them. Of the returnees, the ridiculously good-looking Nicholas Banks as Nick and Katie West as the sweet Tanya remained strong supporting presences and the debutants Ruth Milne and in particular Mike Noble were very good.

The show felt pretty much note for note the same but it was really interesting to see it again: knowing how the finale plays out, one sees the hints and clues much more clearly, the sociopathy, the homoeroticism, the sense that any adolescent crisis feels like the end of the world. However, I found the decision to insert an interval curious: where the break hits give the last line of the first half a much more ominous feel which was unexpectedly good, but I feel the play benefits from the unrelenting tightening of the screw that playing straight through offers.

So yes, there is a little too much speechifying and this group of kids would never spend as much time together as they do here, but it is a highly effective portrayal of the confusion experienced by so many in their teenage years and just how dangerous they can be.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 18th September, then touring to Sheffield, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Eastbourne, Plymouth, Oxford, Leicester and Warwick
Note: there’s some loud noises and loud music playing throughout the scene changes

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