A school musical explores how every teenager is obsessed with fitting in.
An unsettling side of teens explored in musical
hate normal people. Normal people should be eviscerated,” says the socially inept William Carlisle, the lead character of the play Punk Rock by the British playwright Simon Stephens. Our school’s recent Sixth Form production, starring Daniel Wakefield as William, has left the audience with plenty of brain fodder to dissect and digest. It follows a group of students in a British public school studying for – or having hysterics about – their forthcoming A levels, something my class can easily relate to, being in the same position.
Punk Rock explores how normality is, of course, nonexistent, yet something every teenager is wildly obsessed with achieving. Many of our everyday conversations tend to be prolonged whinge fests, with every person doing their best to outdo each other on what they hate about themselves. Hair, skin, intelligence, weight? Having the love of our pitiful lives think of us as no more important than a slug in the grand scheme of things? We’re all convinced we are performing below par, and sigh wistfully about “just fitting in”.
The play was heavy stuff, with lots of undercurrents of emotion and symbolism that I bet a literature student would love analysing, and a total triumph for the drama students who put it together. It wasn’t always straightforward to understand for us intellectually challenged folk, though. It did get us discussing and offering our own interpretations of what we thought it was about, which is the effect Mr Gardner, the head of the drama department, says they had hoped to achieve.
Cissy (Cathy Faria) has the preppy boyfriend, but obsesses with falling grades. Chadwick, brought to life by Cameron Walker, is extensively bullied by Bennett (Henri Schomper), egged on by his sidekick Nicholas (Ayrton Loureiro). Niamh Merrrigan gives a wonderfully angst-filled portrayal of Tanya, embarrassed about her crush on a teacher but unafraid to stand up to Bennett. Relationships, grades, bullying: the cast zoom in on teens’ insecurities ruthlessly, the scales falling from our eyes with every scene.
Right now, our biggest insecurity is getting into university. William, ever the public schoolboy, casually tells the new girl he’s fallen for, Lilly (Talia Elsener), how he’ll go to Cambridge. Or perhaps Oxford. We can feel for him.
Initially, the play features fairly pedantic themes of students fretting over their exams and whether the pretty girl will go out with them or not. It’s a sharp shock when William, rejected by Lilly and dismissed as an insignificant personality by his friends, begins to deteriorate into someone almost inhuman, seized by an all-consuming desire to leave his mark on the world. In a bleak reference to the recent school shooting in Connecticut, the last scene has William rounding up his classmates in the library as they dissolve into tears.
It is a stark reminder of the fragility of life, how teenagers can expose frighteningly dark depths in their silent pleas to be noticed and paid attention to. Teenagers must navigate a world full of startling curveballs, shifting shadows and precipices you can lose your footing on; high school is nothing short of a battlefield. Expressing ourselves through drama and the arts can be a fantastic way to release the pent-up energy and deal with the nagging insecurities before they make us lose touch with ourselves. However Oprah-like that might make me sound.
The writer is a 17-year-old student in Dubai