Writers: Jack Thorne and Stephen Warbeck
Director: Jeremy Herrin
Reviewer: Clare Howdon
Junkyard, currently playing at Theatre Clwyd after a successful run at Bristol Old Vic, centres around a group of young misfits who are viewed by society at large as ‘junk’. Crime, teenage pregnancy and violence abound, while their exasperated headmaster (Kevin McMonagle) struggles to know what to do with them, other than attribute their behaviour to their collective troubled backgrounds.
Step up a young, idealist teacher named Rick (Calum Callaghan) who isn’t prepared to write these youngsters off, believing a sense of purpose and pride could work wonders for this disillusioned and damaged group. Rick invites Fiz (Erin Doherty), Talc (Enyi Okoronkwo), Ginger (Josef Davies), Tilly (Seyi Omooba), Higgy (Jack Riddiford) and Loppy (Ciaran Alexander Stewart) to join him in building an adventure playground on a plot the headmaster has earmarked for the new maths block. Despite the initial reluctance, the group soon develop a communal love for the project as well as building some pretty special bonds along the way.
This is heartwarming stuff and Jack Thorne’s fresh and dynamic text is brought to life outstandingly by the production team and cast. The music (composed by Stephen Warbeck) is simple and understated and Junkyard is certainly not your traditional musical. If you are expecting Gilbert and Sullivan, then you may be disappointed but what you get instead is, in my humble opinion, far superior. There is certainly no sense of ‘shoehorning’ in songs at play here. Musical interludes are natural and heart-felt, wavering between day to day conversation and moments of beautiful poignancy. The result is a funny, moving and exciting piece of theatrical storytelling.
Jeremy Herrin’s direction is faultless; an effective pace is maintained throughout with some lovely moments of theatricality (who knew that the quickly switching on and off of torches on stage could look so visually effective?) This is complimented beautifully by Chiara Stephenson’s set design; a veritable feast of planks, swings and slides which allows the energetic cast to fully inhabit the many levels, corners and sides of the space, not only creating a mesmerising visual impact but also heightening an important message in Thorne’s text; the power of a youthful communities passion and imagination.
Erin Doherty turns in a quite remarkable performance as Fiz, getting the balance of teenage rebellion and awkwardness and tender toughness spot on. Her comic timing is second to none and her interactions with Talc (played heart-breakingly beautifully and gently) by Enyi Okoronkwo are a particular highlight of the show . Mention also has to be given to Jack Riddiford and Josef Davies whose characterisation throughout is delightful and whose characters Ginger and Higgy provide many of the on-stage laughs. But what is most impressive throughout Junkyard is the sense of ensemble among the cast; the character interactions with each-other are direct and often brutal but always underpinned with a mutual affection and respect and it is the casts ability to play this so naturally that makes this such a special evening of theatre.
It is impossible not to get swept up in the sheer joy of this musical. while most of the first half is exposition (albeit done extremely well and entertainingly), it is the second half of Junkyard that really packs an emotional punch and drives home the empowering and stirring message of community and investment in our young people.
Runs until 15 April 2017 | Image: Mark Douet