“challenging and clever … while being fun, funny and downright exhilarating …”
Punk isn’t dead. And, if it is, then the body still smells. That smell is tHe dYsFUnCKshOnalZ! – coming up through the floorboards and still offending, still challenging but somehow thought-provoking. The play, written by Mike Packer and directed by Steve Thompson has all of that punk spirit but takes advantage of the time passed and the theatrical format. The delivery is a moving and hilarious story of a band coming back together so they can sell out to corporate America.
Packer has written a deeply challenging and cryptically sincere play that drives the audience through the late lives of four estranged bandmates, skewered together by the offer of hundreds of thousands of pounds from an American credit card company for their song to be in an advert. Billy, the band’s lead singer, disappears after a mysterious event in Copenhagen but each of the band’s members grows into a complicated, meaningful and developed character. The show rises and crescendos with clever themes about capitalism, integrity and death served to the audience enciphered as offensive and simple-seeming punk rock behaviour. Despite the shouting and screaming which sets a world record for fucks and shits and the awesomely loud on stage punk performances, the show whispers its ideas and never thrusts them on a single audience member.
The direction from Thompson is superb as the actors navigate a tight space at the Hen and Chickens Theatre. The music and on-stage band are weaved nicely to create a real sense of the punk in each set change, each prop and the stubborn refusal to turn anything down for an older, more mature, Islington audience. With the script setting each scene well, the musical instruments in the back of each conversation give a sense of thematic space rather than a physical location.
The acting was fantastic with Danny Swanson leading the way as Billy Abortion but others in the cast giving equally comprehensive and intense performances. Swanson finds the paradoxes in Billy the washed-up lead singer but somehow resolves them with clarity – his erratic and destructive behaviour end up enigmatically making total sense. As the evening progresses, Emily Fairman as Louise Gash delivers emotional depths that are best experienced in person, not through a review.
tHe dYsFUnCKshOnalZ! Is not to be underestimated. Although it pays homage to a genre of the past, the production is entirely of the present. Its questions, anxieties and characters make sense in our world of ‘brand authenticity’ and Instagram art. A challenging and clever play that rejects forced intellectualism without throwing away thoughtfulness – all while being fun, funny and downright exhilarating.
“they capture in equal amounts, the mundane as well as the unimaginable events that happen within a long-term relationship”
Every parent hopes and expects that when they drop their child off to school they will be happy and safe, and that their needs will be looked after. When you are informed that the whole school is bullying your child, how do you react? Especially when you are told that the onus is partially on the child for wearing what they deem an inappropriate backpack? In Paco Bezerra’s hard hitting play The Little Pony, it is the proceedings after such allegations that form the basis of the work, throwing up highly relevant arguments, and exploring issues many are facing today. Originally written for Spanish audiences, it has now been translated by Marion Peter Holt, allowing the English-speaking public a chance to witness the intensity of Bezerra’s writing.
It is inspired by the true-life incident that happened in North Carolina, in 2014, where nine year old Grayson Bruce was attacked verbally and physically for coming to class with a pink My Little Pony backpack. This resulted in the school forbidding the boy to wear the bag, rather than taking the correct measures against the bullies. Bezerra uses the horrific case to start a conversation about equality and morality, without forcefully trying to find a solution or easy answers.
Adopting the perspective of the boy’s (in this version Timmy) parents, The Little Pony offers a close-up view of the battle one couple goes through – with themselves as much as the outside world – to protect their child. Daniel (Paul Albertson) has a liberal yet also ‘brush things under the carpet’ attitude, leaving him oblivious to the severity of the situation until the last minute, where his anger finally gets the better of him, with adverse consequences. His wife Irene (Rachel Sanders) has more conservative ideals, believing in doing what the ‘majority’ expects, until she soon begins questioning her morals and capabilities as a mother. Both argue over their son’s wellbeing, whilst poor Timmy isolates himself, imagining another universe that protects him from the terrible reality, waiting for his parents to finally hear him.
Paul Albertson and Rachel Sanders do a terrific job as husband and wife, desperately trying to do what is best for their son. At times moments can feel forced and too theatrical, yet for the majority, they capture in equal amounts, the mundane as well as the unimaginable events that happen within a long-term relationship with authenticity, which this highly intimate play deserves.
Video Designer Enrique Muñoz adds a chilling tone to the production, making the central, wall-hanging portrait of Timmy eerily modify as the boy’s traumas worsen, giving a creepy Dorian Grey effect as the happy child in the picture starts to disappear.
With a mix of sensitivity and stark brutality Bezerra raises awareness of the difficulties and struggle in changing social expectations and the challenges faced if you lie outside what is considered ‘normal’.