Junkyard, Bristol Old Vic and touring
IN 1979, some years before the coining of the term “sink estate”, the community of Lockleaze in north eastern Bristol was still reeling from the adjoining M32 opened four years earlier, and petty crime, unemployment and despondency were rife.
It was then that the Baroness Allen of Hurtwood’s national scheme for creating adventure playgrounds, on the Danish pattern of using “junk” for the construction, came to Bristol. The playground they built off Romney Avenue in Lockleaze is still going – still threatened with redevelopment and still frequently abused and vandalised – but still going, strong.
That might not seem a promising theme for a play, but when you put playwright Jack Thorne, composer Stephen Warbeck, director Jeremy Herrin, the inspirational Tom Morris and a group of exceptional actors together, anything can happen.
And with Junkyard, on at Bristol Old Vic until 18th March, the triumphant outcome is a real boost and a cry for understanding of the importance of communities in the threatening days of 2017.
Rick, a would-be trendy teacher, is sent in from Walthamstow to lead a project to build an adventure playground on a patch of waste land next to a Lockleaze school. The young teenage kids who hang around the area don’t want to be bothered with any social project, specially one they regard as a patronising sop, but Rick cleverly coerces their mothers, and before long they are truculently helping out. By the time the structure takes shape, they own it.
Jack Thorne has created an intensely felt story, with a powerful character at its centre. Played by former Bristol student Erin Doherty, the narrator and central character is Fiz, a force of nature. Sharp, self effacing, funny, strong and powerfully charismatic, she is the heart of the project, around which the others congregate. It is another stunning performance by the young actress who was an unforgettable Sister Juana in the BOVTS production of Heresy of Love, just two years ago in the now-demolished Studio Theatre at the Old Vic.
Enyi Okoronkwo is a heartbreaking Talc, with Josef Davies as the belligerent Ginger and Scarlett Brookes as the pregnant Debbie. The seven younger actors are totally convincing as disaffected 13-year-olds, and they weave the audience into their story.
The writer, Jack Thorne, is the man who brought Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to the stage, and scripted National Treasure for Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters. He’s Bristol raised, and his schoolteacher father was one of those involved in the creation of the Lockleaze playground, known as The Vench.
Stephen Warbeck’s music, played live on stage by Akintayo Akinbode, Nadine Lee and Dario Rossetti-Bonnell, draws on the pop classics of the time, laying down a rhythmic backtrack for the kids’ own stories, with anthemic moments following the construction of The Spider.
And Jeremy Herrin directs with his usual verve, on a jagged set designed by Chiara Stephenson and atmospherically lit by Jack Knowles.
This is a violent, hilarious, passionate and life-affirming play, a brilliant coalescence of everything that makes live theatre an inimitable art form that can inspire and delight all people of all ages and backgrounds.
That was what Tom Morris hoped Junkyard would bring to the city’s theatre, and his prayers could not have been better answered.
Please don’t miss the chance to see this wonderful show.