Junkyard at the Rose Theatre review *****



Rose Theatre Kingston, 30th April 2017

Once again I am writing some thoughts about a play (well musical in this case) which has been and gone. I really haven’t got the hang of this have I. Still this blog is mostly to stop me from annoying the rest of the family so I guess it doesn’t matter.

So Junkyard was/is a co-production between Headlong, the Rose, the mighty Bristol Old Vic and Theatre Clwyd. The book and lyrics come from one Jack Thorne, the creative brain behind the Harry Potter play which garnered all the accolades at the recent Olivier Awards, and who is directing the Woyzeck about to open at the Old Vic with John Boyega in the lead. I know Woyzeck through Berg’s opera and I am looking forward to this big time. Jack Thorne also co-wrote the This is England film series with Shane Meadows which I highly recommend if you have never seen it.

As an aside I cannot bear this Potter stuff. MS loved the books when he was a boy, LD is addicted to the films, we had a wonderful day out at that Potter World thingy (one of those many occasions when I have been forced to eat humble pie) and I think JK Rowling is a marvellous human being. But I still think it is calculated, derivative nonsense.

Anyway Tourist try not to alienate your audience.

So why go to see Junkyard? And worse still why drag BD along? It might have been her turn to “go with Dad to see something otherwise he will moan on about how no-one cares about him despite all he has done for us” but on paper a musical about kids in a playground in the late 1970s is not designed to wow the sophisticated, worldly, WhatsApp-arati

As well as the massive stamp of quality from this being Headlong and directed by Jeremy Herrin (most recently People, Places and Things and This House), the main draw in booking was Erin Doherty. She plays the lead Fiz in this production and it her smiling face in the promotional pic above. And I think she is going to be a massive stage star. This is the second time I have seen her lead a play. First time was in Wish List, the Bruntwood Prize winning debut play by Katherine Soper at the Royal Court. This was a very moving account of a pair of siblings struggling to get by in today’s Britain. Erin Doherty as Tamsin was riveting as she maintained a quiet, optimistic dignity despite the wearying array of pressures she had to bear.

The mark of a great play/production for me is whether in sticks in your mind and you come back to it weeks and months after you have seen it. So far this year Wish List, along with Winter Solstice at the Orange Tree, the Almeida Hamlet, Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Roman Tragedies and The Kid Stays in the Picture fit this bill. I suspect Consent at the NT will also join the list.

Anyway stop rambling. Junkyard is terrific. I don’t really like musicals but the songs here are short and catchy, and emerge directly from the prose like a kind of West Country singspiel, and the music by composer Steven Warbeck could barely be appear to be any simpler (much trickier to do that it sounds I reckon). The plot is hardly imaginative, a bunch of troubled kids (the “junk”) at a Bristol school in the dark days of 1979 are roped into helping an idealist “youth worker” type, Rick, into constructing an adventure playground out of junk materials. They resist at first, they come round, the school authorities step in to close it down, it mysteriously burns down, but the kids rebuild and it is saved for the next generation. Literally the oldest “look what us kids can do if we really want to” plot in the book.

But OMG it packs an emotional punch. It is very, very funny, the kids are foul mouthed, arch and knowing, and easy to root for. The issues they face, with “chaotic” (as I believe the papers call it) family lives are beautifully rendered with simple brush strokes and the drama very real. The set is a fully paid up member of the cast. The energy and enthusiasm of the cast is infectious – cliche I know but they really did look like they were having a great time – and whilst I singled out Erin Doherty there wasn’t a duff line, note or step in the house

So this old curmudgeon ends up surreptitiously wiping a tear from his eye at the end and BD had to admit, unprompted, that she really enjoyed it. We didn’t quite become as unselfconscious as the play and performers in front of us but it took us mighty close. An absolute joy.



Hysteria at the Greenwich Theatre review ****



Greenwich Theatre, 29th April 2017

I will keep this short and sweet. Whilst this production by London Classic Theatre has been and gone from Greenwich it is still touring with dates in Oldham, Yeovil, Newtown, Aberdare, Dunstable and Colchester.

In my view this kind of touring productions deserves your support. These people work very hard doing something they love. I am not saying you should toddle off to anything just because it is on the doorstep. You need an interest in the play on show for sure. But if there is the merest inkling please take a look.

This was not, I fear, a packed house and Greenwich Theatre is in need of a little TLC which I hope will be forthcoming. This is a marvellous play which was very competently delivered and it was a shame there weren’t more bums on seats to see it – mind you it was a Saturday matinee to be fair.

I went with the SO, BUD and KCK last year to see the all-star production of Dead Funny in the West End which was an excellent account of Terry Johnson’s meta-comedy which he also directed. And I am praying that Mr Johnson’s Insignificance will be revived at some point as I am now a firm fan.

Hysteria imagines what happened when Sigmund Freud (played by Ged McKenna) met Salvador Dali (John Dorney) in 1938 in Freud’s London home (just before his death in 1939). Freud is resting but is startled by Jessica (Summer Strallen who I gather normally plys her trade in musicals), who turns out to be the daughter of one of his previous patients, who was the basis for his theories of presexual shock. Jessica gets out of her wet clothes (including Freudian slip obviously), hides in closet (!!), Freud’s doctor, Abraham Yahuda (Moray Treadwell) arrives, followed later by Dali, played in a deliberately over the top way. This is the set-up for a visual farce, which uses language and props to simultaneously examine Dali’s art and Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis. To give you an idea, at the point Dali enters, events have conspired to leave Freud holding a snail infested bicycle, with a bandage on his head which looks like rabbit ears, and his arm in a wellington boot. Geddit.

It is unabashedly a clever play and has Johnson’s trademark veering between low(ish) comedy, high(ish) intellectualism and dark insight often in the same scene. It examines many of the criticisms of Freud’s theories and Dali’s surrealist art – it rams this home through Yahuda’s criticism of Freud questioning the “Moses myth”. It demands attention. You will learn a lot – I had no idea about Freud’s turn on a sixpence on who bears “responsibility” for sexual abuse. But it also has some proper laugh out loud funny bits. And it does go from A to B – or maybe it doesn’t as the ending suggests a dream. It probably helps if you have a tiny bit of insight into the work of the two key characters. But it has a structure (farce) which is constant – which makes it easier to digest than early Stoppard the closest parallel I know.

I am sure there have been, and may well be, higher profile productions of the play but this audience member for one is grateful to LCT for taking it on. Thanks.