by Rebecca Blithe | Aucklander – Thursday, March 22, 2012 3:00
It’s called Punk Rock, but it’s not a play about punk rock. Although music from the era of rebellion provides the aural portrayal of teen angst, it’s been argued the title is merely a decoy for the shattering tale of a group of British students struggling through their final year of high school and bracing for the next phase of life.
The work of celebrated UK playwright, Simon Stephens, Punk Rock’s New Zealand debut promises anyone whose entry into adulthood whispers, to have it brought ringing back to their ears.
Premiered by the Outfit Theatre Company, the play has been described as The History Boys meets Catcher in the Rye with its byzantine depiction of students under pressure from their parents, their peers and their own ambitions as they prepare for their mock exams at an elite private school in England.
Nathan Mudge, 20, plays the lead role of William Carlisle, a charming, intelligent and ultimately violent character whose discontent with his boring bourgeois existence leads him to commit an unthinkable deed in the play’s final act.
“He’s a bit all over the place, he’s very complex,” says Grey Lynn resident Mudge, who recently finished work on The Motor Camp with the Auckland Theatre Company. “It’s not often you get to play a 17-year-old who’s as complex as William. You’re watching how each character responds to pressure. It’s so nice to be in a play that’s so real.”
So real that his character wets his pants on stage.
“I’m wearing some weird apparatus under my clothes,” says Mudge, who’s also had to adopt an English accent for the role.
“I tried it out on a taxi driver last night. He seemed to believe it.”
Although the play is set in England, Mudge says the experiences of the students are largely universal.
“I went to a private school, whether you’re part of it or not there’s always that elitist group. I was always going to go to law school and then I decided to go into acting. It wasn’t until I got out of Palmerston North and high school that I started to make decisions for myself and that happens in the play as well. It’s those characters wanting to get out of a small town and live their own lives.”
While dealing with some heavy topics, there is also humour, with UK reviews coining it both shocking and funny.
Alongside William there’s the jock, the bully, the nerd, the scholarship student from a poor family and the dream girl.
The play’s producer, Ema Barton, says they chose the work because it “kind of jumped out at us. Every scene is opened with a piece of music. When you look at the lyrics to all of the songs, it’s about rebelling against constraints.”
She says the company has approached high schools to attend the production.
“It would be really interesting [for students]. It poses a lot of questions about the pressures on teenagers. It doesn’t necessarily answer any questions, it just makes you think about what has brought them to these really dark circumstances. You don’t necessarily expect it. You’re feeling the stress and it’s just a matter of time. It’s going to be a real shock for the audience.”
WHAT Punk Rock
WHEN March 27-April 7 (No show Monday, April 2)
WHERE The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD
HOW MUCH Adult $30, student/senior $20 PREVIEW (Tuesday, March 27) $15. Tickets at www.iticket.co.nz
(R15: Contains strong language and violence.)