Subiaco Arts Centre
Wednesday 15 October 2014
WAYTCo has been under the artistic direction of Renato Fabretti for only a few short months, but if their latest production of Simon Stephens’s Punk Rock is anything to go by, the company is in good hands. It closed just this past weekend, so if you didn’t get down to Subiaco Arts Centre to see it, then you missed out on a high energy, edgy gut-punch of a piece. This is youth theatre for all ages, not just the young.
Kudos to Fabretti and WAYTCo for choosing a piece that deals directly with issues that high school kids face without talking down to audiences, especially the demographic depicted in the play. It’s age-appropriate material that is neither condescending nor oversimplified, with a script that offers actors the chance to play between the lines. Punk Rock is an ensemble piece that gives these young actors the chance to really sink their teeth into some meaty roles and explore material that even more seasoned actors would find challenging. So, well done to these young up-and-comers for tackling this rather beastly play without fear.
The production is relentless, and although we went the entire duration without a break, Fabretti’s direction kept things interesting and the action moving along quite well. We watch these high school kids tease, torment and tame each other as they move towards exams; we could cut the angst with a knife. The cast manages to avoid being two-dimensional, and there’s a nice cross-section of types to identify with. The kids aren’t all exactly likable, but they shouldn’t be; each of these performers gives us varying shades of light and dark, which is a testament to their innate abilities as well as the director’s care.
The show’s protagonist, Lily, is given deft treatment by Chelsea Gibson, who infuses her character with innocence mixed with wisdom beyond her years and an undercurrent of teenage smoulder in some scenes. There is some very fine support work by Naomi Denny (Cissy), who is un-self-conscious, sweet but occasionally cruel. William Everett-Knight as Chadwick seems to tap right into the psyche of a bullied teenager but eventually reveals his inner strength.
Among the other supports, Declan Brown (Bennett) couldn’t be a more odious bully, Sven Ironside (Nicholas) manages to float above the fracas on a wave of well-groomed looks, and Claire Thomas (Tanya) exempts herself with a slightly superior attitude. But it’s the anti-hero (William) played by Luke Binetti that sent chills down my spine. He begins as a sympathetic underdog, and ends up an absolute menace; his transformation is unnerving and surprisingly astute for such a young performer.
There was one thing that didn’t work; the final scene feels tacked on and anticlimactic, but this is a script issue more than anything. The set, designed by Patrick J How is simple but with a fun surprise breakaway wall. The crew has made good use of the Subiaco Arts studio space by playing in three-quarter, so that for once the whole audience has a good view of the action. By the end of the show, the stage is an absolute mess, William’s head is a mess, and we are left to assess the damage of what it means to be a teenager in the 21st century. It’s messy.