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Review: Punk Rock @ Royal Exchange, Manchester
Set in a fee-paying grammar school in Stockport, Simon Stephens’ powerful new play begins as an Etonian teen drama, however it slowly dawns that a violent underbelly within these seemingly normal youngsters is going to “pop” spectacularly.
The articulate pupils are sixth formers preparing for their mock A-level exams when their group is joined by Jessica Raine’s self-harming Lilly, who tragically becomes the focus of Tom Sturridge’s disturbing and nerdy William.
The music by White Stripes, Sonic Youth and the Stooges which threads through the play is raw, scratchy and loud and signals the aggression which will devastate the lives of the young people.
The middle-class William and Lily talk incessantly about “Stockport chavs” distancing themselves from a similar label and all the characters participate in game of sexual chess which precipitates tragic consequences.
The play has some superb acting and Henry Lloyd-Hughes as the uber-posh and bullying Bennett gives an impeccable performance as he is almost unbearable to watch as he taunts the classroom swot, Chadwick. Jessica Raine as Lilly is exceptional as she exudes confidence and at the same time a sense of vulnerability. However, Tom Sturridge steals the show with his disturbing and stuttering William – a boy on the brink of insanity.
As the exams loom and the students begin to crack under the pressure the audience are thrown into a Columbine High School style massacre.
Almost a shock tactic too far, this clever sometime’s tragically funny play could have held its own without the violent denouement.
l Until October 31.
Call 0161 833 9833.