For Fran and Leni, punk is freedom from the restrictive paths their upbringing has put them on, protection from violent misogynists, and a place to express themselves authentically. Fifteen years later, the scene looks different and the two once-young girls have to find out if they’ve stayed true to their punk sensibilities.
After meeting at school and developing a sibling-like relationship, Fran (Mikhayla Dennis) and Leni (Olivia Mcleod) started reasonably successful punk band the Rips. The spotlight brought other characters and some obstacles into their lives until they eventually lost sight of their shared vision and parted ways. Fifteen years later, Leni has written a book about her early punk years which encourages Fran to reach out and rekindle what might be left of their fierce friendship.
Structured in alternating flashbacks to Fran and Leni’s burgeoning friendship and the present day, Leni’s book tour, including recordings from radio interviews during the height of their punk stardom, Sadie Hasler’s script loosely constructs the unique atmosphere of an adolescent infatuation between two lost girls who set themselves against the world. Their shared desire for escape and rebellion draws them closer until the harsh realities of life dampens out their fire.
Direction from Emma Gough attempts to capture that rough and ready environment of the punk scene with heightened teen drama which is later set against a cooler resignation and understanding in Fran’s return to Leni’s life. She emphasises the strong feminist message against misogyny and endangerment of girls and women with slam-esque passages recited by Fran and Leni in unison, demonstrating an earnestness leaning towards unsophisticated. Another pitfall of the production appears to come from the script with its short staccato scenes exacerbated by awkward transitions and inelegant set rearrangement. The set, designed by Gough, comprised a collection of milk crates stacked to allude to varying spaces in a utilitarian solution to independent theatre limitations but which additionally involved wholly unnecessary, oddly timed, and distracting mid-scene rearranging.
Dennis and Mcleod have an endearing camaraderie as they develop through their relationship as friends, sisters, and rivals. Mcleod as the younger and harder of the two carries the abrasive punk persona well, playing into shallow shock-value moments with a calculated commitment and good comic timing. Dennis’s Fran otherwise transitions from straight-edge to punk and back to straight-edge convincingly. The characters are largely done a disservice by Hasler’s script which assigns both stereotypical sob-stories and sets the stakes of their friendship against enormous odds including rape, abuse, murder, addiction, and cancer. With a more reserved narrative, the characters may have been afforded a more subtle exploration of their growing inter-dependent senses of self.
British punk was a force all its own, giving a space to young people attempting to navigate a changing world and unstable expectations. For these girls in particular, punk was both armour against abuse and a home to find love and comfort in.
Fran & Leni is running at New Blood Moon Theatre from September 11th – 14th as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival