Writer: Christopher York
Director: Paul Robinson
Designer: Helen Coyston
Lighting: Ben Cowens
Sound: Simon Slater
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Build a Rocket, after a brief run at Scarborough, took itself off to the Edinburgh Fringe for a month and has now returned for ten performances at the McCarthy at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. It has all the zest, exuberance and instant impact of the successful Fringe production; in the colder light of a theatre season, one may feel that we have been here before.
Yasmin is a Scarborough girl from an uncaring and disadvantaged background, 16 years old at the start of the play, who has a zest for language and the world of the imagination as well as for the dangers and delights that await 16-year-old girls. When she goes out for a wild night with the girls, becomes involved with the DJ and gets pregnant, we are in familiar territory. Her dealings with authority, the reaction of her friends, the initially negative response of the father who takes up with another girl, spring no surprises.
Where Build a Rocket adds to the familiar is in the free-wheeling use of often poetic language and the fact that Yasmin keeps the child and sets about being a responsible mother, touchingly pleased (and relieved) when she is recognised as such. Through her son, she finds her identity. Education is where we start and finish: from putting exams second to sex with Danny to…who knows?
Christopher York’s text combines the demotic and the scholarly neatly. A recurrent image is that of the Classical story of Daedalus and Icarus, with Yasmin prepared to tackle the sun head on she moves from a victim of society to what the programme calls “the architect of her own destiny” (or maybe her son’s). Paul Robinson’s restless direction is seldom still and frequently (metaphorically) explosive. The set design is no more than a structure from a kiddies’ playground, for Yasmin to climb on and wriggle beneath, but the tension and drama is enhanced by attention-grabbing sound and lighting effects.
Which only leaves the main reason for going to see Build a Rocket: Serena Manteghi’s performance as Yasmin. Totally in sync with the frenetic realism demanded by York and Robinson, she strikes poses, changes character in a moment (some sharply bitter caricatures and a fair bit of fun), ranges from rant to lyricism, leaps and runs like an Olympian, and always commands the stage. It’s pretty exhausting to watch her and not always easy to follow her constant shifts of focus and/or character, but after some 70 minutes, her impact is still as vivid, her timing as precise, as at the start.
Runs until 8 September 2018 | Image: contributed