Belfast Telegraph

Punk Rock: Stunning school drama bullies us into submission

By Grania McFadden

School days – the best days of your life. The camaraderie of the classroom. Confidences shared over sandwiches in the common room. Making friends with others who share your hopes and fears. The future beckoning...

Or what about this? The playing fields as killing fields, with the weakest in goals, fending off the strikes from the tougher kids. This week's friends could be next week's enemies – best to take no prisoners: hide your flaws by highlighting those of others.

Welcome to sixth form. Simon Stephens' high octane drama is set in the library at a Stockport grammar, where new girl Lily is being shown the ropes by William, a boy with 'shy hair' who's a square peg in the round hole of student life.

They're joined by their classmates – bully-boy Bennett and his smart but stupid girlfriend Cissy; handsome, sporting Nicholas in his designer overcoat, timid Tanya, and Chadwick – the awkward, ugly egghead.

There's plenty of big talk, big eyes and posturing from the students, as they prepare for their mock A-Levels. But the air crackles with tension and unpleasantness, underlined by the kick-ass punk music and violent choreography which punctuates scene changes.

It's impossible to tear your eyes away from director Selina Cartmell's cracking production, acted with verve and energy by its young cast. Lauren Coe's knowing Lily hides her scarred arms under her school blouse, her bravado a front. Ian Toner's vile Bennett is a familiar figure in most classrooms – as is his smug and sneering girlfriend, played by Aisha Fabienne Ross.

Rory Corcoran is heartbreaking as precocious Chadwick, who endures Bennett's taunts and torments, while Rhys Dunlop's William veers between being earnest and just odd.

As tensions finally boil over, and we approach the chilling climax, we could be watching fact just as easily as fiction.

Young people watching Punk Rock will feel an uneasy affinity with at least one character. And older members of the audience will feel thankful that the days of double chemistry and dread are far behind them.

Four stars

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