There are four productions of Simon Stephen’s Punk Rock being performed at the Fringe this year and ArtsOne Drama School is the first to wade into its murky world of teenage angst. This is a difficult play, exploring the gamut of adolescent issues from unrequited love to peer-pressure, bullying, and the extremities of exam stress. A frequent criticism of the writing is that the drama poorly foreshadows the cataclysmic climax, which makes it a real challenge, especially for younger players who may lack the ability to keep dramatic tension in check with the simmering sub-plot.
. This cast falls into the easy trap of either presenting caricatures that are over the top or attempting a staginess that comes across as a little too shallow, especially when it comes to the unpleasant conclusion.
It is also a very difficult play for even older teenagers to perform because it is clear that they have not long since been sitting around the Sixth Form common room, buried in the quagmire of micro-politics and young love. This cast falls into the easy trap of either presenting caricatures that are over the top or attempting a staginess that comes across as a little too shallow, especially when it comes to the unpleasant conclusion. That said, there is a lot of energy in the performing, and Jessica Brown’s Lily is played with a naturalism that is, perhaps, the best approach to this piece.
An unusual, somewhat daring addition to this production is the presence of a chorus – which, one assumes, is intended to be a modern version of a chorus from Greek tragedy. Presumably, this was a measure to include members of this drama school who didn’t make the grade for the main parts. However, they do little to comment on what is going on and taking up half the stage, they tread a difficult balance between adding absurd humour and, in truth, being an irritation. For most of the play, they muck around with various percussion instruments and a guitar. Providing musical links between scenes, they sync – rather badly, it must be said – to the recorded snippets of music.
In the concluding scene, the chorus stand in white coats with clipboards, making notes as the play falls to pieces. It is hard to make this piece believable, which is more a criticism of the script than this ambitious production. The cast’s enthusiasm and energy are clearly evident, and this is what gets them through the challenge of tackling such a work.