Review: Junkyard (Rose Theatre Kingston) ****

Who would’ve thought that putting together bits and bobs could create something so beautiful? Of course, I’m talking about the playground, the centre point and home of the show Junkyard. But the same could be said of the show itself: pieces of wood and metal, drums and guitars, and a cacophony of profanities all combine to create something great. Currently playing at the Rose Theatre Kingston, Junkyard is a well crafted musical, made of many conflicting parts, but which all come together under Jeremy Herrin’s direction.

The year is 1979 and Britain stands at a turning point. But one thing will never change: need. When Rick asks (or rather blackmails) a group of kids to build an adventure playground, it’s something that none of them want. But it might just be something they need..

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Junkyard
is itself a collaborative piece, from Headlong, Rose Theatre Kingston, Bristol Old Vic and Theatr Clwyd. The Rose Theatre Kingston is its current home, a beautiful stage with audience almost on all sides. There’s an inherent intimacy to the space, which is further heightened in the staging. Musicians sit amongst the audience, forgoing the traditional orchestra pit. With an impressive lighting rig at his disposal, Jack Knowles is able to create visually stunning moments. However, it is often when it is not used at all that the drama is truly heightened. Torches and lighters take us back to a simpler time and form of storytelling. This motif recurs throughout the first half, leading to a tense twist at the end of the first act.

As the tension and story builds, so too does the set. Assembled throughout the show by the cast, we see the story and the world materialise before our very eyes: ‘This is a spider, this is a ship…’ Most theatres would normally have a team for this; building it from scratch, this creates the sense of community between the characters and cast. And as this world begins to crumble and fracture, so too does the set.

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Jack Thorne provides the book and lyrics for the show, with music from Stephen Warbeck. It might not seem the most obvious subject for a musical: the adventure playground movement. But I can’t imagine telling the story any other way. The script is fast and loose; there’s a freedom to the words and phrasing which the actors revel in. The characters themselves are well rounded and well fleshed; it’s an ensemble piece, each given their own time to shine.

We are introduced to each of these characters in musical interludes by Warbeck, explaining their background. These all share a similar beat, sounding quite similar. This though is not to its detriment, but rather reinforces their sense of community. It also means the audience are more aware of songs which do sound different (and are meant to), placed at crucial moments throughout such as ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Cupboard’. These come together at the end for a final amalgamated song, but one which doesn’t pack quite the punch it should.

The majority of the cast is playing younger than their years, with the group of kids about thirteen years old. Any fear of playing it too young or mockingly is immediately allayed in Erin Doherty’s opening monologue. She is Fiz: bubbly, bright but with a bite, she is the leader of the gang and the show. Enyi Okoronkwo plays her right hand man Talc, whose vulnerability is beautiful particularly in ‘Cupboard’ song. You really see this character grow, thanks to Thorne’s script and Okoronkwo’s portrayal. Calum Callaghan is the adorable but hapless teacher Rick and Josef Davies steals the show as Ginger. Menacing, magnetic he doesn’t even need a microphone!

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At the end of the show, we see where the kids are now (spoiler: Ginger is where you’d least expect him). While this works for The History Boys, it’s a little less seamless here. The final speech is directed at the audience about these playgrounds and these characters, who start to tear up about their fate…or is it the actors? It’s very meta and feels very serious, but it’s not quite sincere.

Though this is a show about children, this is not necessarily a children’s show. And Thorne’s script makes that perfectly clear! This is a show for all generations and one which speaks to each one: it inherits and inspires. Bring your children or just awaken your inner child.

Junkyard plays at the Rose Theatre Kingston to Sunday 30 April 2017. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Rose Theatre Kingston website.

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