Punk Play – Southwark Playhouse
On entering the Southwark Playhouse, there were gold balloons spelling out Punk Play, a badge for me that said ‘dreams are free motherf***ers’ and Xanadu was playing. So far, so weird. Which, pretty much set the tone for the evening.
We are in what appears to be an attic room – a teenager’s haven. Throughout the play it refashioned itself into a stage, a roller rink and a place of dreams and nightmares. This is Mickey’s safe space, that he comes to share with Duck – a fellow teenager on the road to nowhere. One is only slightly less dorkier than the other, epitomised through his hair. What the play capture beautifully is the intense heat of being a certain age. When everything is vivid and bright, and your sense of hate and injustice at the world is its hottest. Dreaming of sex (or anything close), love and punk, the boys put a band together, go on the lookout for girls, and meet some strange characters along the way.
As is often the case with teenagers, the end goal is unclear. They might just change the world, but if nothing else they’d at least like to meet a pretty girl who wants to kiss them. Perhaps the problem with centring a play around two such haphazard characters is that it gets a little repetitive. Their search for the perfect band name is hilarious, but their teenage ramblings lose weight as the play continues.
In places it is certainly surreal. We encounter Reagan, Jesus and a ex-soldier, who are all there with political messages for the boys. I can see the thinking here – we are exposed to the different strands of what ‘punk’ as an ideology is. I did like that it was a bit random and unfocused, but even the playwright Gregory Moss admitted that he probably tried to do a little much for one play.
I almost feel that the bulk of the play should have contained a little more narrative. It was enjoyable to watch the boys flailing about, and the acting was excellent from Sam Perry and Matthew Castle. They played off well against each other and were endearing in their naivety. Their lack of interaction with other characters or with stories outside the confines of the bedroom meant it felt like we didn’t really go anywhere. Of course, that may have been exactly the point. I also felt that there wasn’t nearly as much actual music as I was hoping for. It would have been good to hear more of the hits that the boys were obsessed with. The message was that you could insert any ‘angry’ band of any generation into the boys’ world (hence the blank labelling of objects) but it still would have given it a bit more colour.
Perhaps the most poignant message comes at the end of the play. It reminded me of the Frank Turner song, ‘Love, Ire and Song,’ where he discovers that the hedonistic ideals of his youth faded away as he grew up. In the end, punk became just another fashion, a style to wear that identified you as something, but as time went on lost the heat of promised political and social change.
The play captures that beautiful moment in your youth, when you are petrified of your own genitalia and the music searing out of your cut-price stereo speaks to you. That you will be different. That the world will change, and it will change because of you. Punk Play is more a collection of scenes and ideas than a fully realised narrative, but it does manage to capture that tearful, awkward moment when you saw the world in a very different way.
And then you grow up. Captured so well in Moss’ poignant line: ‘You need to eat, drink water, sleep now and then. The rest is negotiable.’ An enthusiastic riot of a play.