Last night I spent my evening in The Little at the Southwark Playhouse, currently home to Gregory S. Moss’s punkplay. This UK Premiere comes with critical acclaim from its USA run and has been programmed as part of PUNK LONDON: A year long run of events, gigs, films, talks and exhibits celebrating 40 years of punk heritage and influence in London.
The programme states that this production should never surface in large institutional theatres – the programme itself a collection of “pasted and scribbled” content stapled together in tech week. I’m ready for a return to punk! I was born in 1977, placing me right in the midst of the London Punk revolution. I’m ready and eager to glimpse at the social and political idolatry that changed a generation forever, leaving impressions of mohawks, leather jackets and red phone boxes in my mind, mentally preparing myself for a soundtrack of The Ramones, The Clash and The Sex Pistols!
My friend and I are ushered in to what appears to be an old school hall with punkplay fashioned out of shiny oversized helium balloons on display at the front and Oliva Newton John’s Xanadu booming from the speakers. What? Olivia Newton John? She isn’t very punk is she…
A faceless voiceover welcomes the audience to the 80s, referring to it as the piece of skin between the anus and the scrotum. Okay, this is more like it….. the disco soundtrack fades, enter two guys on roller skates, they look like typical 80s pubescent nerds, familiar to me from watching coming of age films such as Weird Science, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club. They don’t look very punk like at all!
We meet Duck (Matthew Castle ) and Mickey (Sam Perry). Duck has been thrown out by his parents so needs to stay at Mickey’s home. From here on their punk inspired bro-mance ensues.
What unfolds over the next 90 minutes is not your typical linear narrative, instead a fusion of scenes, ideas, practices and techniques more familiar with experimental art and post-modern performance weaved with the punk idolatry – exploding uncontrolled in front of us on roller-skates until it reaches a sweet climax gifting the audience with other-worldly secrets!
The cast is small with only four performers, Perry and Castle have a fixed character throughout whilst Aysha Kala and Jack Sunderland admirably take on a myriad of characters including Ronald Regan. Both Perry and Castle give very solid performances, while Sam Perry’s physicality, facial expressions and general nerdness is outstanding. Considering this Perry’s professional debut I am hugely impressed, another actor to add to my list of people to watch out for.
Castle also delivers a first-class performance as Duck; bully and wannabee – iconoclast who leads and baptizes Mickey (Perry) in to the world of PUNK! (Someone please tell these kids that Punk is dead! Long live the long-haired rockers of 1980s and the Cinematic brat pack!)
The props are minimal, wrapped and labelled “beer” “porn” “record”, the list of potential band names is endless, and the music they play is loud noise!
There are some absolutely fantastic moments in this production, their drug trip scene is pure genius, watching the guys watch porn for the first time, the cutting of Duck’s hair and the smashing of vinyl all are perfectly executed with precision and on-point comic timing. However, the moments where the guys play their version of punk is pure noise and painful to watch. It may have been a directorial decision to have them over-play their discordant and tuneless tribute, however, it was a tad too long in my opinion and didn’t need to be there.
Overall, mid 1980s, mainstream America isn’t where I would expect a performance piece titled punkplay to be set, but I guess that’s the point of this new production by Gregory S. Moss – Punk cannot be faked, it just is!
Punk is an attitude, not a fashion statement not a tourist activity. It’s ideologies of social and political beliefs not an excuse to not do your homework or smash up things! Essentially I think this is the crux of this 90 minute explosion of 80s nostalgia. The play is either a complete strike of genius or a laborious painful over-long production, I would lean towards the former.
Review by Faye Stockley
punkplay is part of Punk London – 40 years of subversive culture.
Playwright Gregory S. Moss said: “I hope London theatregoers respond the same as an American audience. It’s a play that works on a bunch of levels. I hope they can find some reflection of their own adolescence in the central relationship. I hope that the play does capture, in an authentic way, some of that spirit of what I thought punk rock was about: this unfettered freedom, that sense of possibility that it gave me when I was a kid. It’s a huge deal for me to have the play open in London. And also to be part of Punk London – the 40th anniversary of punk in London – feels incredibly validating. It makes me very happy.”
Directed by Tom Hughes
Designed by Cécile Trémolières
Lighting Design by Sarah Readman
Sound Design by Jethro Cooke
Casting by Sophie Holland
Produced by Philippa Neels
Philippa Neels & Co. presents the UK premiere of punkplay by Gregory S. Moss
77-85 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6BD
Box Office: 020 7407 0234