The story of a bunch of rowdy teenagers hanging out and smoking in a DIY adventure playground doesn’t sound like the most exciting of theatre productions, but add in the fact that it’s based on a very real and ongoing story plus uses the talents of a BAFTA award winning writer who worked on the likes of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ and you’ve got a hit on your hands.
Junkyard is the latest on stage action from the increasingly eclectic programme at the Bristol Old Vic.
Inspired by the true story of the Lockleaze playground known as ‘The Vench’, set up more than 30 years ago and still in use today, it centres around a group of youngsters who are finding it hard to grow up in 1979.
With Bristol’s streets piling high with rubbish, teacher Rick decides that building a playground made of junk will get Fiz, Higgy, Ginger and their friends excited. How wrong he is.
What follows is a fouled mouthed, hilarious, emotional and incredibly powerful story about childhood and coming of age.
The actors are way beyond adolescence but all are completely and utterly convincing as 13 year olds.
From the very first moment when Fiz, played by Scarlett Brookes, walks on to stage to set the scene (the ‘F’ word is uttered in sentence two!) I thought I was watching a group of kids.
At times they were so convincing I found myself wondering how the director had managed to persuade their parents to let them use such strong language before remembering it’s actually been a long time since the actors tackled climbing frames and swings!
The first half has somewhat of a panto-feel about it with some catchy numbers sung by the cast exactly how you’d imagine an inner-city kid would sing about their experiences.
The second half meanwhile has a darker feel as the characters deal with the impact of an attack on one of their own, a teenage pregnancy and battling the school governors who want to rip down the playground the children have come to love.
I know from a friend that the story of ‘The Vench’ is far from made up.
So when Fiz walks to the front of the stage at the end of the play, her words, “thanks for coming to watch us play” with tales of yearly battles to keep the playground funded are all the more poignant.
Groundwork South manages The Vench and provides a valuable outlet for Bristol’s real-life young people and it’s good to see such a high profile theatre being used to highlight a very real story.
Bristol Old Vic bussed in a group of Lockleaze residents for the press night and it would be good to see more locals who wouldn’t normally consider visiting the grand old theatre getting a chance to see this important play.
Four out of five from Lifestyle District.
Junkyard runs at the Bristol Old Vic until 18 March.
Images by Manuel Harlan