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Punk Rock review at Lyric Hammersmith London

Set in the library of a private school in Stockport, Simon Stephens’s play – the first of the Lyric’s new season under artistic director Sean Holmes – focuses on seven students grappling with exams, adolescence and the impending apocalypse.

The library itself is remarkably impressive, all huge, stacked, oak bookcases and vaulted windows. The characters are young, attractive and deliberately kooky. Bursts of punk rock punctuate the production. The overall effect is Skins meets Hogwarts.

The show opens with newcomer Lily meeting oddball Will who, as played by Tom Sturridge, is both disarming and alarming, with the obligatory nervous tic to establish his credentials as a dangerous live wire. Jessica Raine gives a superficial performance as Lily, a stereotypical turbulent teen – self-harming, self-indulgent, seductive and spiteful.

Curiously, the most convincing characters are those with the fewest lines. Nicholas Banks is entirely plausible as lacrosse star Nicholas, while Katie West is natural and engaging as gentle Tanya. The others are more akin to caricatures. Henry Lloyd-Hughes as bad boy Bennett, although comic, is too foppish to muster any real sense of brutality, while Harry’s McEntire’s Chadwick has too much self-conviction and spirit to make any sense of his repeated victimisation by, and capitulations to, Bennett. As Bennett’s high-achieving girlfriend Cissy, Sophie Wu is extremely entertaining and has some very amusing lines but, as with McEntire, her declamatory performance is at odds with the situation and makes her more of a comic mouthpiece than a recognisable schoolgirl.

These teenagers authoritatively spout lengthy speeches that, peculiarly, the others rarely interrupt. Not only do they talk with a surprising degree of self-confidence, they also tend not to look at or listen to each other much, making the interaction dull.

Stephens displays some fine writing and some amusing lines but a handful of unsympathetic characters and fairly shallow performances fail to drive the tale along. It doesn’t help that the production seems undecided as to whether it wants to pursue realism or comedy. An unnecessary interview between doctor and schoolboy at the end adds nothing that has not already been established and tries audience patience in a show that runs at one hour 50 minutes without interval.

The play has its merits – it looks great, with stark lighting changes and slick production, and contains flashes of genuine humour and insight – but despite a great deal being spoken, too little is actually said.

Production Information

Lyric Hammersmith, London, September 3-26, then the Royal Exchange Manchester from October 7-31

Author
Simon Stephens
Director
Sarah Frankcom
Producer
Lyric Hammersmith and Royal Exchange, Manchester
Cast
Nicholas Backs, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Harry McEntire, Jessica Raine, Tom Sturridge, Katie West, Sophie Wu
Running time
1hr 50mins

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