Monday, 12 September 2016

Review punkplay

by Gregory S Moss

Mean Boys

Ah, the 1980s,  still the age of the compact music cassette. When yours truly would untangle her favourite mix tape which had unravelled after heavy duty use  using the high tech method of a pencil pushed into the take up reel. Those were the days!

Written in 2009, punkplay (which has adult content) harks back to the era before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when trickle-down economic theory and Star Wars defence systems courtesy of President Ronald Reagan ruled the roost. By the 1980s, the punk movement had gushed up like a juddering spluttering geyser before entering the mainstream pool of culture. But this play seems to ask,  was it allowed its day, then trained and diverted?

Somewhere in small town America (maybe in Oregon to judge by a T-shirt)  resides early teens' Mickey in his own room. Not luxurious by any standards but his own room. Into this tumbles Duck, thrown out by his Dad for refusing to go to military school and ravenous, gulping down the sweets that Mickey offers him.

They watch the images which bombard their lives - chiefly TV and video, while flaliling and spurting out their teenage rage (rage, we would say, rather than angst). Snapshort scenes follow snapshot scenes - a playlist, we're told of the punk era.

Or as Gregory S Moss, the playwright in  a quote from the progarmme introduction says: "The Land of P|unk was, and is an aspirational place, just over the rainbow where weirdos congregate and make angry, funny subversive for each other in opposition to dominant culture."

It struck us, it would have great to have been there at the origin of the play - the first reading, awesome for the actors who first created the roles.  But if the play was only about the rebellious punk movement, it would have been a grim irony if it were given more than one performance, cloned from a set script.

This is a play as much about the Regan era and the psychological impact of video (and musical instrument) technology. The age of the Russians in Afghanistan, of freak shows, of unprecedented access to porn before the advent of the internet.

It's superbly acted (sll on  roller skates - a 1980s' craze which found its way into Kander and Ebb's The Rink and Lloyd Webber and Stilgoe's Starlight Express) by Matthew Castle as Duck and Sam Perry as the more gawkey, geeky bespectacled Mickey.

From the outside comes Jack Sunderland as first wave punk Chris, an object of adulation but also division for the boys. And an object of desire, in goth-like attire apart from the pink bow and pom pom, Aysha Kala as Sue Giki, a mistress of the pose and pause.  

It's directed with verve by Tom Hughes who manages impressively to pace the 85 minute onc-act play which needs some exquisite timing, although we admit to finding a few longeurs in the latter half.

Still, the undisciplined anger of the play comes through with energy and humour in their own DIY bedroom gigs. Even the cryptic arrival of a hardcore duo from Montreal (also Sunderland and Kala), a  phantasmagoric episode prompted by sexual frustration and substance or alcohol abuse with a Toni-Basil like cheerleader (Kala again) with the head of - no, we won't give it away - go see!

And, hey, let's not forget the pathos.

Cécile Trémolières' set is almost cassette-shaped with its flat wall with windows on either far side and a middle with a chewed-chewing-gum coloured heavy curtain in the middle. The latter draws back to reveal reams of magnetic gold strips hanging down behind a set of drums and an electric guitar which are all part of our twosome's rite of passage.

This is a play which, it seems to us, tries to encapsulate the anarchy of a brief few years, but also, how counter to this, the impetus was eventually harnassed and its out-of-context manic qualities brought disturbingly into the military and academia.

It's a curious amalgam of a show full of potent images, a coming-of-age story, so beloved of the 1980s and later, and more fearfully, charts rage and sexual frustration to  be used or abused. So it's not all mohawk hairstyles, spikes and safety pin fashion - an upper range amber light from your own energetic, theatre-pogoing twosome.

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