From the acclaimed playwright who adapted the best-seller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for the stage - which recently opened to rave reviews in the West End - comes one of his earlier plays that established his path to success.
Rehearsals began this week at the Lyric Theatre for the Irish premiere of Punk Rock by the double Olivier Award-winning playwright, Simon Stephens.
Stephens – whose mother is from Belfast and grandmother from Sunnyside Street, just beside the Lyric – said he is “thrilled” to have the first professional production of one of his plays opening in the city.
“It means the world to me that Punk Rock is opening in Belfast,” he said. “My Mum was born in Belfast. My grandma was born into a family of seven girls on Sunnyside Street. My great-grandfather worked as a carpenter on the Titanic. My granddad, his English son-in-law got a job at Methodist School. In many ways this feels like a homecoming to a hometown I've never been to before. It’s been produced in four different continents and all over Europe now. It is thrilling that it will open down the street from my grandma’s house,” he said.
Stephens means to rectify that with plans to attend one of the performances and take part in a post-show discussion in September. The former school-teacher described the play as about “kids trying to leave home”.
“It’s a play about the energy and fear of what it is to be seventeen years old,” he said. “It’s an honest interrogation into the souls of young people at the start of the twenty-first century.”
Punk Rock is an intense and powerful piece of theatre about the complex lives of a clique of sixth-formers from a fee-paying school preparing for their mock A-Level exams. They struggle with their identity, questioning the status quo, while coping with the extreme pressures of exams, parents and peers. Underlying the small talk and banter in the school library, the play explores the darker issues of mental health and the stark realities of life as an adolescent which leads to a shocking climax.
Stephens’ aim as a playwright is for the audience to feel like they’re at a cross between the theatre and a rock concert and the show has a thumping soundtrack ranging from The White Stripes to Sonic Youth.
Punk Rock stars seven young actors, three of whom – Belfast actor Rhys Dunlop, Lauren Coe and Rory Corcoran – have just graduated from The Lir Academy in Dublin.
Rhys said: “I could not be happier doing my first show after The Lir in the Lyric. Not only does it mean that I get to work at home but also at one of the most exciting theatres in the country.”
The rest of the cast are Aisha Fabienne Ross, Ian Toner, Jonah Hauer-King and Laura Smithers who studied at Queen’s University and recently graduated from the Lyric’s own Drama Studio.
Celebrated director Selina Cartmell, who is making her directorial debut at the Lyric, said: “Punk Rock has a raw and explosive energy that plugs directly and honestly into the hearts and minds of a group of sixth-formers preparing for their mock A-levels.
“Simon has written a bold, visceral and fearless play that makes you feel more alive. He vividly captures the twilight years of adolescence by evoking the humour, self-doubt and aching desire of love and lust that challenges and confronts the teenager today.
“I am very excited about this production as it offers me the opportunity to collaborate with a cracking young cast of actors, most of whom will be making their professional stage debut, on a play that promises to thrill and shock in equal measure.”
Punk Rock runs on the Danske Bank Stage from Thurs 14 August to Sat 6 September 2014, Tues to Sat 7.45pm, and weekend matinees at 2.30pm (Previews Sun 10 Aug 2.30pm, Tues 12 and Wed 13 Aug 7.45pm). Tickets from £10 to £24.50. Please note this play contains strong language and some violent scenes.