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A Study of One Family’s Suffering – Elissa Blake, (20.12.13)

Posted by on Dec 20, 2013 in Media | 0 comments

A study of one family’s suffering

Elissa Blake

Published: December 20, 2013 – 3:00AM

Baby, it’s a wide world: (from left) Huw Higginson, Amanda Stephens-Lee, Graeme McRae and Alex Beauman play a family in crisis. Photo: Wolter Peeters


In the space of three years, Pantsguys Productions has become one of the most visible of Sydney’s independent theatre-making collectives.

Formed around a nucleus of graduates from Actors Centre Australia in 2010, the company has already produced 10 plays. One of them, British writer Simon Stephens’ drama Punk Rock, was voted Best Independent Theatre Production of 2011 at the Sydney Theatre Awards in January. The production’s director, Anthony Skuse, also collected an award for his work on the play.

Almost a year later, Skuse and Pantsguys are reuniting for another Stephens play, On the Shore of the Wide World, a tightly focused study of one family’s suffering. ”I love how [Stephens] deals with really big issues and the way they ripple from generation to generation,” Skuse says. ”I love the quality of his writing, the richness of the world. He’s also very clear in what he wants the play to feel like. He notates the script like a musical score.”

One of the leading young writers to emerge in the new century, Stephens won the 2005 Olivier Award for Best Play forOn the Shore of the Wide World. Like many of his plays, it is set in his northern English home town of Stockport, Lancashire. Here his subject is the Homes family, which, over three generations, has developed a knack for unhappiness. Perhaps 18-year-old Alex (played in this production by Pantsguy co-founder Graeme McRae), can break the mould, having found love with a girl called Sarah, who is staying over at his house for the first time. But with his parents’ marriage looking rocky in the wake of a tragedy, the situation quickly begins to generate instabilities within a fragile household already afflicted by the spectres of infidelity and alcoholism.

On the Shore of the Wide World, which takes its title from a poem by John Keats, is a much quieter play than Punk Rock, Skuse says. ”It’s not in your face, or anything like that,” he says, referring to the loud and often bloody stream of playwriting that emerged in the early 1990s. ”But you can hear Margaret Thatcher’s legacy in it. The characters are often saying things like, ‘I can’t tell you what to do. You need to do it for yourself’. But the characters all realise they can’t just do what they want to. Every step they take has consequences for everyone around them. It’s about recognising they are not just individuals, they are part of a community.”

The play is very much about home truths, McRae says. ”He’s right at that point of change, on the cusp of becoming an adult,” he says. ”We’ve all been there when you’re trying to find out who you are, but mum is holding on a little bit too tightly. Hopefully, it will leave audiences thinking about their family and their loved ones and how they relate to those they are closest to in life.”

After directing productions such as Lord of the Flies (New Theatre) and Punk Rock, Skuse has a reputation for bringing out the best in young actors. In this play, however, he has mature talents on board, too. ”I like the potential of a young actor, but I’m loving the range of experience in this cast. I can remember seeing Kate Fitzpatrick and Paul Bertram at the Old Tote in the 1970s. It is really exciting to have them in the rehearsal room. I’m seeing skills being passed down the line.”

Punk Rock Review – Sydney Morning Herald

Posted by on Aug 13, 2012 in Media | 0 comments

Hell’s Like Teen Spirit: Naive, Cruel

ATYP Studio, The Wharf, July 27. Until August 11

Even without recent events in Aurora, Colorado playing on your mind, this production of Simon Stephens’s 2009 drama will just about floor you with the cold ferocity of its climax.
School daze: Darcie Irwin Simpson and Sam O’Sullivan
Punk Rock is set in the stuffy library of a selective school in well-heeled Stockport, Manchester. Its habitués are the high-achievers, mostly from comfortable backgrounds: straight-A student Cissy and her boyfriend Bennett, the room’s self-appointed agent provocateur; sparky Tanya, often on the receiving end of Bennett’s cruel tongue, as is Chadwick, a scholarship-funded mathematics fiend.
Nicholas is smart, sporty and fancies himself a bit. Posh newcomer Lily fancies him, too, which is a stake in the heart for William, whose regard for his own intellectual capacities makes him especially unforgiving of failures he perceives in others.
All are about to sit their “mock” A-levels and the pressure is on. Parents are expecting to see a return on their investment in their children’s education. Futures are in the balance. Is Stephens trying to draw a link between all this to the viciousness of the verbal and physical hazing? Maybe, though nothing quite prepares you for the moment when all this anxiety and resentment is discharged.
Stephens’s teens seem unnaturally precocious at first though we soon begin to hear the naivety underpinning their assertions. Academically bright they may be, but they are also a mess of hormones, prone to bigotry, vulnerable in matters of the heart, and tormented by the fear of failure.
Anthony Skuse directs (after an excellent Lord of the Flies for the New Theatre) and his gripping production keeps you on the edge of your seat for its no-interval duration. Staging the play on a traverse set (by Gez Xavier Mansfield) is the masterstroke, creating a sense of intimacy while allowing the audience to observe waves of tension build and break among their numbers opposite.
Skuse draws out some exceptional performances, led by a charismatic and disquieting Sam O’Sullivan as William. Graeme McRae is splendidly toxic as Bennett, Madeleine Jones creates a snippily credible swot in Cissy, and Darcie Irwin Simpson smolders classily as sixth form siren Lily. Tanya Gleason, Owen Little and Gabriel Fancourt offer nuanced support, as does Paul Hooper as the play’s sole adult.
Stephens’s coda – almost a short play in itself – allows the accumulated tension to flow to earth. It lets us off the hook, perhaps, but without it, Punk Rock would leave its audience shocked and desolate.
July 29, 2012

Punk Rock Review – Augusta Supple

Posted by on Aug 13, 2012 in Media | 0 comments

Punk Rock | ATYP

Sometimes a play sticks to your ribs and makes it hard to breathe, or hard to move.

Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock has found its way into the wooden heart of the wharf, in ATYPs Under the Wharf season with a bright and ambitious collective (Pants Guys Productions) and my dear friend Anthony Skuse at the helm. I have been watching the work of Pants Guys Productions as their portfolio of work proliferates – they are everywhere – passionate and ready.

If anyone knows the burning urgency to escape a small town life, its me. And though half my lifetime ago, there is a strange and unsettling ressonance in the words that cascade out of William Carlisle’s mouth – the aspiration to be better than here and now. If anyone love the punk aesthetic it is me – the desire for do it yourself, alternative to mainstream commerical consumer culture – the idea of hand made, unique music – I turn to The Dead Kennedys to rev me up and Sonic Youth to calm me down.

The burden for youth is, and always will be massive – a giant load of history (success and failure) weighs heavily on their shoulders, they have inherited a world they didn’t design or shape. They are born into situation and families that they can’t control. Plus there is an animal instinct for status and sex developing in equal ferocity. Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock grabs the ropes holding all these young people in place, and tugs at them like a skinhead carillon player and we can all hear the sounds from miles around.
The burden of youth is beauty they can’t see, energy they can’t focus, intelligence that is disctracted by the petty and the superficial.

In Skuse’s direction we see the waiting room of students before the mock trials- the agony of lust, the pain of expectation, the observations that five packets of skittles makes your brain feel amazing. We see a fine ensemble cast (Sam O’Sullivan, Graeme McRae, Madeleine Jones, Darcie Irwin Simpson, Rebecca Martin, Owen Little, Paul Hooper, Clementine Mills, Gabriel Fancourt)

The burden of youth is the responsibility for the world it feel too late to shape. And from the mind of Chadwick Meade we have the articulate and hopeless explosion that predicts the downfall of the planet by the hands of humans.

Unfortunately this production is too well timed. And it seems a regular occurance that some person somewhere in the world – Denmark or Denver, Oklahoma or Port Arthur feels the burden of the responsibility of the world and opts out.

Skuse has found the softness, the kindness and the generosity is each of the characters – he’s allowed the actors to find their love story within the terror and the terrified scenes. He’s beautifully breathed patience and kindness into a brutal situation. This play is a major work for Simon Stephens – and this production is a major work of Anthony Skuse. The vision of Pantsguys is a growing and impressive bandwagon of talent – I suggest you get on it.


August 6, 2012


Punk Rock Review – Daily Telegraph

Posted by on Aug 13, 2012 in Media | 0 comments

Teen drama with powerful performances

August 05, 2012

STAGED so soon after the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, which brought back memories of Columbine, Punk Rock feels extremely topical.

Those events may have taken place in the US but adolescent angst is everywhere and Punk Rock plugs powerfully into the emotional turbulence of being a teenager.

This terrific 2009 play by British playwright Simon Stephens is set in a selective high school where a group of articulate sixth formers hang out in a dingy library as they prepare for their mock A Levels – equivalent of HSC trials. It begins with the arrival of posh new girl Lilly (Darcie Irwin-Simpson), who is self-confident yet self-harming. The likeable, intelligent but troubled William (Sam O’Sullivan) falls for her and is devastated when he discovers she is dating the buffed Nicholas (Owen Little).

There’s also the bullying Bennett (Graeme McRae), his girlfriend Cissy (Madeleine Jones) whose mother will “kill her” if she doesn’t get straight As, the plucky Tanya (Rebecca Martin), and the science nerd Chadwick (Gabriel Fancourt) who is mercilessly picked on by Bennett.

Director Anthony Skuse draws exceptional, totally believable performances from his young cast. Punk Rock is gripping. Recommended.



Punk Rock Review – Daily Sydney

Posted by on Aug 13, 2012 in Media | 0 comments

Punk Rock at ATYP

When asked to describe his play ‘Punk Rock’ Simon Stephens said:

“It’s like The History Boys on crack.”

… he wasn’t lying.

The Australian premiere of ‘Punk Rock’ is currently playing at Sydney’s ATYP in their theatre under the Wharf. From the production company that brought you ‘The Shape of Things’ last year, Pantsguys Productions are a serious creative company to keep on eye on.

This show is absolutely exquisite. I haven’t been so affected, or moved, or shocked or stunned or propelled by a single piece of theatre in a very, very long time.

Raising important, particularly pressing and relevant questions of today, ‘Punk Rock’ encourages us all to fforceably reflect on the anxieties we harbour as young adults: where they come from, why they’re there, how to solve them. The uneasiness we get when we realise we don’t ever want to live our lives a certain way, take certain things for granted and having to accept what we always deemed unacceptable.

Delicately handled and directed by the incomparable Anthony Skuse, this team of actors have put together a show that has been the highlight of the 2012 Sydney Theatre season for me. You’d only be cheating yourself if you didn’t get to it.

So do.


Emily Eskell



Fringe Review UK – autobahn

Posted by on Mar 20, 2012 in Media | 0 comments

From the unhinged girlfriend to the remorseful boyfriend, the cheating wife to the uneasy runaway, this show explores life through a series of vignettes staged in the front seat of a car. This is an unmissable performance and a definite highlight of this year’s Fringe.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Autobahn is a marvellous example of what theatre can be when it is done properly. For 80 minutes the audience travels the freeway of life, as five short plays explore tensions, secrets and dramas from the front seat of a car.

There are minimal props; those that are used (lip balm, iPods, Subway sandwich) each add to the performance. The set is bare except for two car seats and a steering wheel, the lighting simple and perfectly suited to the storyline. Yet, for all its sparseness, the show manages to take you on a journey that is both heartfelt and harrowing.

These short plays explore a variety of themes—lost love, betrayal, remorse, violence—and the sensational cast never falter in their faithful recreation of LaBute’s flawless script. It is impossible to single out individual standouts within this nine-person team; each actor is professional, engaging and committed to the performance.

There are numerous moments of humour, which the audience respond to, however these are always laughs on the dark side of life, as the show fully explores the breadth of human experience. 

The dialogue is familiar at times, reflecting the daily banter that occurs in relationships, but then the stories slowly unravel one thread at a time to reveal the truth of the situation. There are some eerie, uncomfortable moments created with seeming ease, and it is clear that what this script does best is hold a mirror up to society, reflecting back the good and the bad.

In truth, this is the show I’ve been waiting for all Fringe—no gimmicks, flashy costumes or unnecessary set changes—just talented actors and a world-class script that sweeps you away. With a few nights still remaining, I can’t think of a better way to round out the festival than by experiencing the power of theatre stripped back to its roots.

Pru Axon. March 15, 2012

New Adelaide Theatre Guide Review – autobahn

Posted by on Mar 20, 2012 in Media | 0 comments

If you want theatre, go out. If you want real drama, just get in the car. This is the idea behind Pantsguys Productions’ “Autobahn”, a modern play written by Neil Labute, inspired by the emotional exchanges often held in automobiles.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
The stripped down interior of half a car (the two front seats and a steering wheel) sits centre stage, and accommodates nine actors over 80 minutes.
The show is divided into six separate conversations, all with different characters revealing different relationships and agendas. Labute’s contemporary script elicits many laughs from the audience, and accurately portrays a lot of universal feelings and circumstances. However, some segments are very similar in tone and ideas, making the production feel quite repetitious. 
The ensemble is very strong, with a high standard of acting across the board. Owen Little, Rebecca Martin, Cat Dibley, Alex Nicholas, Tim Reuban, Madeleine Jones, Paul Hooper, Megan Holloway and Alistair Wallace all give committed and commendable performances, and it is difficult to determine any stand outs.
Not only do all actors impress with their individual performances, but there is also exceptional chemistry between the cast, which is essential in a play like this which relies on relationships. In particular, Little and Martin in the first skit “Bench Seat”, and Hooper and Holloway in “Merge” are memorable for their interaction. 

Wallace’s sound design works well transitioning between scenes, and Tom Petty’s set design is simple and appropriate. Direction by Dale March is considered and apt. 

“Autobahn” has an interesting premise for a show and is executed well. Although the script is repetitive and long at times, the performance is generally very engaging. 

Emma Size. March 19, 2012

AdelaideNow Fringe 2012 review – autobahn by Neil LaBute

Posted by on Mar 20, 2012 in Media | 0 comments

HITCH a ride with playwright Neil LaBute as he explores the intimate, private world of couples. Hear words better left unsaid. Watch tragedies unfold. Accidents waiting to happen.
Like a fly on the wall, or the windscreen, we bear witness to moments of extreme emotional intensity. If cars could talk, what tales they would tell, of young lovers parking and making out, of married couples quarelling, of back-seat drivers, kidnappers and carjackers. This series of one act plays from Pantsguys Productions offers incredible insight into five very different relationships. Attractive actors are easy on the eye, making unpleasant conversation even more compelling and alluring.The truth is not always as it seems. Unexpected twists and turns elicit gasps from the audience, amid a growing realisation that the greatest power lies in saying nothing at all.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Clare Peddle. March 19, 2012