★★★ | Punkplay

punkplay at the Southwark Playhouse
CREDIT: Helen Murray

“…there are no actual rules except the ones we choose to live under. You need to eat, drink water, sleep now and then. The rest is negotiable.”

There’s a celebration of punk this year in London. But what exactly is ‘punk”? A 40 year-old music genre, a lifestyle choice or a way of thinking? Commerce would have you believe it’s a look that you can emulate by spending cash on the high street. It’s way more complex than any of those definitions. “punkplay” relates Punk to the lives of two teenage boys who are feeling conflicted and struggling to see how they fit into 1980’s American society.

Duck’s father wants him to enlist in the army to learn discipline and awkward and ungainly Mickey wants to find where he fits into the scheme of things and snog the face off schoolmate Sue Giki. He’s also keen to learn about sex from Duck. The boys linger in Mickey’s bedroom, making up band names, calling each other faggots and surrendering to feelings of disaffected rage. They’re on roller-skates too, all the way through the play. Don’t ponder this one too much. It makes sense by the end. They fight over a girl, insult each other and French kiss: usual teenage boy stuff.

It’s hard to capture the anarchic and chaotic feel of punk without resorting to clichés but the mostly novice team here have managed to do this with verve and a resounding freshness. It’s uncomfortable viewing, claustrophobic and raucous with bursts of comedy. Naturally, there are blasts of music as the boys riff on an electric guitar and hammer at drums.

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This isn’t a play that will suit everyone but it has a soul and a message and it’s one that grabs the viewer. It’s one of those plays that gains something from being reflected upon and the ending redeems everything that went before. There’s a peculiar beauty to the piece and it has a witty symmetry. The play left me thinking of how “punk” relates to “queerness” and gay identity. Lack of rules and negotiable norms? I’ll take some of that.

Punkplay runs at the Southwark Playhouse until the 1st October

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About the author: Chris Bridges
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He's usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.