tHe dYsFUnCKshOnalZ!
Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 20 November, 2007

It's now 30 years since the great summer of punk; at that time, rock and roll itself had barely entered its twenties. Only natural, therefore, that what was then adolescent rebellion should manifest now as mid-life crisis. Mike Packer's play about a punk band reunion pushes all the generational buttons, sometimes quite predictably but no less enjoyably for all that.

The Dysfunckshonalz of the title split in '77 when Billy Abortion's bandmates left him bleeding almost to death in a hotel room. But now an American credit card company (not having been able to make out all the words) wants to use the group's anti-consumerist number "Plastic People" in an ad campaign, and the ever-ambitious Marc Faeces has to find Billy and sign him up to the deal. Billy, of course, has kept the oppositional faith all these years and refuses point-blank to sell out; but if he did not change his mind, there would be no play...

The names lack the wit of the great punk sobriquets: remember Poly Styrene, Ed Banger and even Dee Generate? Everything else, though, is spot on, including the actors' rudimentary musicianship when belting out the tunes which composer Mia Soteriou has lovingly ripped off from The Ruts, Sex Pistols et al. Of course the shock-effect flirtation with Nazi imagery of the 1970s would correspond now to Billy's lippy Bin-Ladenism (his remarks do shock, too); of course the band will gleefully ride a media hoo-hah for all it's worth, trying to create their own great rock'n'roll swindle; and of course Billy will, just like John "Rotten" Lydon, ultimately accept a spot on I'm A Celebrity – Get Me Out Of Here!

Naturally, too, much of the second act will be taken up with various bitter-truth exchanges and sobering revelations; however, Packer and director Tamara Harvey keep the proceedings skipping if not quite pogo-ing along, not least in the stammering, scene-stealing form of Pearce Quigley as drummer John Smith, his brain fried from decades of booze and speed. It probably helps if you were around at the time, but at root Packer's play is at least as much a satire as it is a nostalgia-fest, and a satire of past and present alike. And what more fitting tribute to punk, after all, than to generate cash from chaos?

Ian Comprehensible

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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