Theatre / 1970s

Review: Junkyard, Bristol Old Vic

By natalie burns, Sunday Mar 5, 2017

Often the hardest stories to tell are the most simple. Junkyard’s wonderfully guileless and direct plot is so disarming that you cannot help but be drawn in by its innocence.

From acclaimed Bristol writer Jack Thorne (This is England, Let the Right One In), Junkyard is a musical like none you’ve ever seen.

Telling the story of a ragtag bunch of troubled teenagers growing up in Lockleaze in the 1970s, Junkyard is based on the writer’s father’s real-life experiences of constructing an adventure playground with a group of disillusioned and marginalised local teens. Who knew a story so simple could be so hilarious, moving and enthralling?

Set in 1976, a few years before riots in St Pauls and across the country, the play brilliantly portrays the social unease of those on the edges of society. But there’s nothing patronising or bleeding-heart about Junkyard. It’s brutal and touching at the same time – and hilariously funny.

Via narration from Fizz (Erin Doherty), an awkward, scruffy teenager with a broad Bristol accent who can’t stop talking, we are transported through a world where something that on the surface seems small and insignificant can change and shape you without you even realising.

The rest of the group consists of Talc (Enyi Okoronkwo), Ginger (Josef Davis), Tilly (Seyi Omooba), Loppy (Ciaran Alexander Stuart), Higgy (Jack Riddiford) and  ‘Dirty Debbie’ (Scarlett Brookes), a promiscuous teenager who skirts around the edges of the story, just wanting to be included in something.

They aren’t friends. They have no friends. They either put on a front to keep people away, or try and stay so quiet that no one notices them. It’s safer that way. What they do have in common is that their parents, teachers and society have already written them off. They have nothing to be proud of, nothing to do – and they’re going nowhere. They are junk.

That’s until well-intentioned (but suitably annoying) happy hippy Rick (Callum Callaghan) turns up to teach at their school. Rick is obvious cannon fodder for the kids – talking about poetry, literature and trying to get them ‘involved’. He sees them as a pet project, something to be fixed, and they know it.

When Rick suggests building a junkyard playground, the kids, teachers and parents are not at all impressed. Mum (Lisa Palfrey) is willing to listen, but only so she can flirt with Rick, much to the kids’ embarrassment.

Rick starts to build the playground on his own, so the gang turns up to watch him, just to take the piss. But as the junk starts to take shape, they begin to build friendships. As the kids get to know each other and start to help out, the playground becomes something much more than old tyres and nails. It’s something to be proud of for the first time in their lives, and they’re willing to fight for and defend it, even if that means they get hurt – and one of them does.

Stephen Warbeck’s score is fantastic and the lyrics are sometimes hilarious, sometimes deeply sad. The script and songs are all laced with that defensive, defiant working-class humour that Thorne writes so well. Under Jeremy Herrin’s direction the characters and the story are unpretentious and to the point, and the entire cast are perfect in their delivery.

Junkyard is a truly rare and beautifully honest performance, and you can feel the writer’s own experience and love for the story in every character and every word. It will make you think back to your own childhood and remind you that in a world so tough, where it’s hard to grow up and stay in one piece, imagination and play are so important – no matter how old you are.

Junkyard continues at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday, March 18. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.bristololdvic.org.uk/junkyard.html

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