The Howland Company is a young, independent theatre company that took on the challenging, hard hitting and disturbing teen drama Punk Rock, a play written by acclaimed playwright Simon Stephens of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time fame.
Many of Stephens’ plays deal with the outliers of society and the Punk Rock script dives into the angsty grittiness of being a teen and trying to find your place and your voice in the world.
The play is set in the well used library of an elite private school in the UK. We meet a cross section of students, some privileged and others from poorer homes on scholarship. There is a pecking order and the characters spend their time trying to find their footing in the choppy waters of high school.
The cast enters from the lobby and the two heavy doors are firmly shut and the room seems to close in creating a claustrophobic vibe which worked perfectly for this piece. I was nervous when told that the show had a running time of nearly two hours with no intermission. Sometimes being trapped in a space isn’t a good thing. In this case, it works and not having a break serves the piece well.
I try not to read too much about a show before seeing it and there are definitely some surprises and graphic moments. Because of the climate of violence we currently live in, even when I know for sure that it’s a prop gun, I get properly frightened. The tension mounted so truthfully that when the climatic moment hits, it felt very, very real.
Gregory Prest, well known for his work with Soulpepper as both director and actor stages the show well. He keeps it simple and tight. I did find it somewhat jarring that they opted not to do British accents when the show had so many British phrases and terms. Interestingly, it is noted in the program that the playwright himself prefers that North American actors do the show in their own accents.
The acting is strong and fierce across the board. There were times some beats felt rushed and some other moments were pushed but overall the cast makes bold, exciting choices. Particularly riveting is the nuanced and highly naturalistic acting of Ruth Goodwin. She is beautifully open and present in the role of Lilly. Andrew Pimento does some heartbreaking and emotionally searing work as nerd Chadwick. Tim Dowler-Coltman also stands out as Nicholas.
Punk Rock is equal parts thrilling and terrifying. You get thrown back into the terrible confusion of being a teen, an age that seems to get increasingly more difficult to navigate. In the end, I am not sure if the final scene of the play worked as written. I wonder why Stephens chose it. It ended up being a bit anti-climatic and I don’t know what we were supposed to be left with in the end and maybe that’s the point.