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The Age review of Punk Rock


Cameron Woodhead

Thursday 12 December 2020

Simon Stephens’ study of adolescence takes us into a Manchester grammar school, where seven students wait for their final exams. We get a fly-on-the-wall portrayal of teenagers in their natural habitat – a tender, if unflinching, view of the pressures, psychology and behaviour of youth – before the play erupts into a violent climax.

Patalog Theatre brings Punk Rock to life with an ensemble performance of disturbing intimacy. The new indie theatre company is quickly making a name for itself and may be the most stylish and enterprising to come out of Melbourne since The Hayloft Project. The strength of the acting proves a major drawcard.

The performances effortlessly recreate a social pecking order with identifiable types. There’s the class bully, the queen bee, the hot jock, the new girl, the fat girl, the maths nerd. But the actors also express how protean and socially contingent teen identity can be, and however typical these teenagers seem, there’s always the sense of a seven-headed monster lurking underneath.

In the presence of swaggering bullyboy Bennett (Karl Richmond) and girlfriend Cissy (Ruby Duncan), things quickly get very Lord of the Flies. Cruel games play out, with Chadwick (Laurence Boxhall) and Tanya (Annie Shapero) bearing the brunt.

With an ensemble as fine as this one it wouldn’t be fair to single anyone out for praise. Talent scouts will be spoilt for choice, and one of the finer points of Ruby Rees’ direction is the way it ensures each performance is fully alive to the others.

The surreal intermezzos to punk rock sometimes feel like half-hearted decoration but you only notice because the acting, which holds the audience through more than two hours sans interval, is so involving.

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