(Benedict Nightingale's article appeared in the Times of London, September 10, 2009.)

Punk Rock at the Lyric, Hammersmith, W6

Hearing that a teacher has had a heart attack, one of the Stockport sixth-formers who gather in the library where Punk Rock is set isn’t at all surprised. “They wander round like trauma victims,” she says of the staff. “They sweat, they’re getting ulcers, they’re terrified.”

To which the proper response is: no wonder, given the atrocity that comes at the close of Simon Stephens’s cracking new play. Sadly, I mustn’t reveal what this is, only say that it echoes sensational incidents reported from other countries, notably America.

The rationalist in me says that Stephens doesn’t prepare for it too well. Yet the rationalist in me should probably take a walk, because his point is that irrationality, unpredictability, confusion stalk the places frequented by those about to take their A-levels. And that’s why his play might be summed up as The History Boys meeting Spring Awakening, Wedekind’s tale of adolescent alienation and angst — and both of them meeting Stephen King.

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