Posts Tagged ‘punk rock’

A Shot of Shock: Simon Stephens

In art|BOOK on October 15, 2009 at 8:52 am

Simon StephensFrom the Olivier award-winning ‘On the Shores of the Wide World’ (2005) to the outstanding ‘Harper Regan’ (2008), Simon Stephens has pushed the boundaries of British theatre by focusing on a violent Britain.  ‘Pornography’ (2008) wasn’t actually accepted at first by British new-writing theatres due to it’s controversial content.  Only when Edinburgh’s Traverse theatre agreed to stage the production did Stephens’ terrorism-based play gain it’s chance to debut in British theatre.  Although Stephens claimed that he didn’t think some British theatres “knew what to make of it”, there are many aspects of Stephens work that are shocking to its audience.

Punk Rock’ (2009) can be used as a sure example of Stephens’ groundbreaking work. Set in a fee-paying school in Stockport, class stereotypes normally associated with violent incidents are immediately challenged. Stephens strongly believes that tragedies such as the Columbine massacre can happen anywhere to anybody.  Using ‘Punk Rock’, he shows that examples of violence can occur outside of the typical ‘working class and often black, urban context’ that theatre tends to place them in.  Therefore middle-class audiences who are often far from the spotlight in these cases could not escape the subject at hand.  As a result, Stephens cuts the comfort blanket of the spectator.

Further to his challenging nature, Stephens claims that the notion of a villain does not exist.  The schoolboy assassin in ‘Punk Rock’ is regarded as violent, but also charming and funny.  The fact that the audience has to make sense of an ironic character proves to be an interesting and unusual task. Similarly, ‘Pornography‘ based on seven linking stories around the time of the 7/7 bombings requires its audience to regard a terrorist as a normal human being .  It is these complex considerations of character that make Stephens work persuasive in mysterious ways.

Although Stephens provides an array of complex themes for his audience, he actually feels that the most important aspect of a play is the punch of drama itself.  Harsh truths must be faced head on.  The notion of revealing information three quarters of the way through a play is ‘theatrically inert’.  Most people only see life as it happens to them and this is something that Stephens strives to change with his work.  However this does not always take pessimistic form.  A sense of hope features significantly in plays such as ‘Pornography’. Although we live in pornographic times, people still seek intimacy. Stephens’ main aim is to provide the audience an opportunity to think about the way we live and what we are.

What lies beneath the shock that Stephens’ audience feel is the fact that his work imitates real life scenarios that an audience would expect to escape from when going to the theatre.  Like with any art form to some extent, an audience seeks distraction. However, in cases such as Pornography, individuals are taken aback with scenes of a brutally frank nature and therein lies his notorious reputation.

By Natasha Devan