Ahead of their scripted production Punk Rock, we caught up with Claire Crawford, Bristol Old Vic Young Company Assistant Director, to find out just how the show is shaping up ahead of its debut tonight at Colston Hall.
Tell us about Punk Rock…
Punk Rock, in essence, is a pressure cooker of a show… bursting at the seams with teenage angst. Gritty, punchy and compelling, Simon Stephens takes us deep into the heart of a fee-paying Grammar School in Stockport, as seven sixth formers navigate through their final year. Pushing boundaries, traversing first relationships, and bristling through exam stress, Punk Rock grapples with what it means to be a teenager in an ever changing society.
As a nation, our school children are amongst the most strenuously tested in the world – with many pupils facing some form of examination every year from the very moment they start school aged 4, with the majority required to sit SAT exams at 7. This exam factory culture, cultivated over many years, has pushed our students to the edge; with anxiety levels and mental health issues amongst young people ever increasing. A 2017 study published in Teaching Supplement TES indicates that our pupils in the UK are amongst the unhappiest in the world, and more anxious about testing than their counterparts in almost any other country – including South Korea and China.
Why do you think that this story is an important and relevant one to bring to a Bristol audience?
Whilst these statistics are worrying, they are largely unsurprising. Both teachers and students across the UK are playing against constantly shifting goalposts, as the education system creaks to prepare our young people for the world outside of it. Working for Bristol Old Vic’s Engagement department, and directly encountering young people in schools from across the city, and further afield, I see this on a regular basis. I can’t wait for a Bristol audience to experience Punk Rock, as an extremely relevant show, striking a real resonance with our changing times. A common theme amongst our young people, when talking to Bristol Old Vic Young Company members and Outreach participants on various projects, (in particular those aged 16 – 17, where our group of characters lie) is the feeling that they do not have a voice in our current society. With recent politics affecting their lives exponentially, young people in Bristol are becoming more politically aware, but still feel stifled. Punk Rock is a snapshot of school common rooms up and down the country, where the drama of teenage lives play out, and addresses that feeling of being quashed by society.
How have rehearsals been going? How would you describe the atmosphere in the room?
I’ve felt very lucky to have been a part of this project, and to work with such a talented group of young actors and inspiring creative team. We were very fortunate to have had such a long lead in to the show (with rehearsals starting back in September), which has meant each actor has had the time and space to truly get to grips with their character in depth. Throughout our rehearsal period we have worked through the whole script in minute detail, pouring over each line as a collective, discussing each motivation, each intention and each question raised. Because this show is a bit of a departure from previous Young Company shows in terms of its cast size (seven of our eldest Young Company, one younger member, and an Adult Company actor), we have had the opportunity to create a really tight knit ensemble feeling – and a true sense of a company. There real feeling of support in the room amongst both the actors and the creative team – each team member has a real role to play within the room, which has been a joy to be a part of. As we have moved through intensive rehearsal weeks and on into technical rehearsals, this feeling of support amongst the group has been truly tangible. We are exceptionally proud of the way that this ensemble has come together, and hope that this will be really noticeable in the final piece.
What’s your experience with Bristol Old Vic Young Company and the Engagement Department?
Last year I was selected to become a part of Bristol Old Vic’s Made in Bristol programme – a year long development course for emerging theatre artists, which offers the opportunity to train as a collective of 12 and create a company. This was a phenomenal experience, and enabled me to hone my skills as a theatre maker and creative; supported, and mentored by experienced theatre artists and practitioners (and expertly facilitated by Director of Punk Rock, Lisa Gregan). During this year, we founded our company INKBLOC ensemble, and I had my first experience of Directing. Our devised show Lego Beach was performed at 1532 performing arts centre in July and will soon embark on a South West tour in Spring 2018. The support of the Engagement team has been vital to my growth as an artist; Bristol is extremely lucky to have such a far reaching, vibrant, and nurturing department at the heart of the city. Since finishing Made in Bristol I have continued working with the engagement team as an outreach facilitator, as a co-producer for the department, and have continued my exploration as a Director on the Young Directors scheme – in partnership with Cotham School… and of course worked as the Assistant Director on Punk Rock!
Why should audiences buy a ticket for Punk Rock?
We hope that you will be as enticed into the world of Punk Rock as we have been when we first read this play. Simon Stephens’s carefully constructed narrative is gripping, thrilling, captivating and strikingly human. As the story unfolds and unravels, and our pressure cooker reaches boiling point, our characters take us on a journey through the teenage psyche. With emotional peaks and troughs, surprises, twists and turns, this show is not one to miss!
This vital play from acclaimed playwright Simon Stephens asks us all to question how young people today deal with the demands placed upon them, catch Bristol Old Vic Young Company’s new show Punk Rock 10-13 Jan. For more information and to book tickets, click here.