Simon Stephen’s Punk Rock opened this week’s Freshers’ Plays with a gritty and unapologetic bang. It follows of group of seven bored and frustrated A-Level students in the run-up to mock exams, with some dealing with the pressure a little better than others. The play is designed to make us squirm, and this production, led by directors Annabel Ekelund and Anna Jones, certainly got the shock factor right. With more rehearsal and polishing it could have been even better, but there were unfortunately moments where the play felt stilted due to lack of movement and inconsistent acting.
The standout performance goes to that of Ben Glaister as William, an awkward and bumbling schoolboy whose endearing shyness perfectly hides the unsettlingly unhinged boy we come to see by the end of the play. Glaister’s characterisation of William had clearly been carefully thought over, with furtive glances and timid mannerisms adding to his self-effacing delivery. I did keep wishing, however, that he didn’t deliver so many of his lines to the floor; whether this was on the part of the actor, or a deliberate character choice, it had the effect of disconnecting an already detached character in the first half of the play.
Bernie Munro also deserves praise as the cruel and overconfident Bennett, bullying his way to perceived popularity. Munro was clearly comfortable on stage and unafraid to embody the nastier aspects of his character. Next to pitiable William, Munro’s Bernie provided the perfect foil to deceive to audience into thinking that if any of these teenagers were going to go awry, it would be this one.
Though the rest of the cast performed admirably, their characters more than occasionally felt flat due to a lack of movement. With more blocking, their characterisations would have been stronger and the longer scenes wouldn’t have begun to drag. Credit must go to Emma Hallewell as Tanya, who held nothing back in committing to Tanya’s horror and panic in the penultimate scene. However, the set (which could have easily been pushed into the upper half of the stage for the entire performance) obstructed a lot of the actors during this scene, meaning it fell short of the alarming effect it could have achieved.
The use of loud punk rock music in scene changes kept the pace up and jarred the audience out of some of the quieter, more sincere moments, which effectively increased the overall sense of discomfort propelling the production. I wish the production team had been more experimental with lighting; especially in the latter half of the play as William begins to become unbalanced, there were many moments when the tech definitely left the production underwhelming.
Overall, the cast and crew are to be commended on bringing this disturbing play to its rightfully abhorrent conclusion. They showed a lot of promise, and despite a few garbled lines and confusing directorial decisions pulled the production off commendably. I’m excited to see what else the Freshers have in store.
Photos courtesy of Katie Brennan.