(Excerpt of an interview with Jeremy Herrin [Director of Headlong], Jack Thorne [Writer- Book and Lyrics] and Stephen Warbeck [Music] - on the origins of Junkyard):
JH: The show concerns young people, what do you think we owe them?
SW: An apology for making a mess…
JT: There was a kid that died near our house… [his] uncle said something that really struck me – he said that [young people] haven’t got anything to do anymore…All the after school stuff he’d do as a kid…none of that’s around. So you can say things like we need to give them a future, or hope or whatever – but the main thing is, I think, we need to give them something to do.
Herein lies the sentiment at the very heart of Junkyard. 6 young teenagers, from troubled backgrounds (identified as such by their Head Teacher [Kevin McMonagle]), are cleverly manipulated into aiding Rick (Calum Callaghan) – a Play Leader from Walthamstow – with the construction of an adventure playground in Lockleaze, Bristol. Much to their dismay, Rick acquires their help by an unprecedented act of genius; he calls round to their parents, praising them for their strongest qualities. Unused to hearing such praise for their children, the parents succumb to the flattery instantly – leaving our six 13 year olds no choice but to assist in the assembly of this playground, letting Rick know he’s a “prick”, while they do so.
Unsurprisingly, once they begin to see the results of their hard work - this playground becomes a great accomplishment to them, one which binds them together as friends and leaders. They sit out at night to protect it and fight, fiercely to sustain it.
The central character Fiz - is the narrator of the piece, played perfectly by Erin Doherty, with a remarkable balance of expert comic timing, confidence and vulnerability – she brings an exhilarating energy to the production. She is joined by Debbie, her slightly older, heavily pregnant sister who is eager to be included in the group (a brooding, yet deeply fragile Scarlett Brookes); Talc, her timid, tolerant and deeply shy best friend (played with a beautifully developed delicacy and innocence – by Enyi Okoronkwo); Ginger – the angriest of the bunch (whose discreet sensitivity is drawn out hearteningly by Josef Davies); Higgy (Jack Riddiford), the joker of the group; Tilly (Seyi Omooba), who hates that she was born a girl and Loppy (Ciaran Alexander Stewart), the hapless, clumsy optimist. Lisa Palfrey plays the single mum to Fiz and Debbie, holding her family together as a unit, even in the face of hardship.
Jeremy Herrin’s direction is vibrant and dynamic. The tone is playful, yet meaningful. His ability to draw out the unspoken feelings of his characters is masterful – as they fill the stage with their boundless, youthful energy.
With a rock band set-up of three musicians (Akintayo Akinbode [Musical Director] on Bass, Nadine Lee on Drums and Dario Rossetti-Bonell on Guitar), Stephen Warbeck’s score punctuates the performance exquisitely and draws us closely into the cultural context of its characters.
Jack Thorne has long since proven his outstanding ability to write from the psyche of young people. He provides them with dazzling wit, deep vulnerability and often, a great underlying inner-strength. He cleverly utilizes the lyrics within the songs to unveil the deeper sentiments of these young teenagers, who are unable to articulate these feelings in conversation, constantly keeping us engaged with their narratives.
There is a serious and political undercurrent to this production, yet we are encouraged to draw upon the positive acts of community spirit. To consider ways in which we might engage young people with the community around them, to inspire them to feel proud of who they are, what they are capable of and what they might achieve.