Junkyard photo by Manuel HarlanJunkyard reminds us that we need to fight for places to play.
Sometime in the mid-eighties (I’m guessing the spring or summer of 1985) my parents took me to Bowood House, near Calne, where I spent an incredible couple of hours at my first adventure playground.
Rather than swings, and roundabouts, and slides there were tall wooden structures to surmount, cargo nets to scramble up, and what I recall was called a death slide, but which health and safety now demands is called a zip wire.
Back at school, I could not wait to tell my friends. “Lockleaze has got a Vench” said one mate. And so, the following Saturday, we set off – he and his brother on their BMXs, me on a racer (my parents disapproved of the brakeless BMX), five or so minutes door-to-door.
What I found was underwhelming: ramshackle structures of badly nailed wood, and tyres attached to lengths of rope. Occupying the playground were some older kids, who smoked, and swore, and were reluctant to let outsiders play. Did I, I wonder now, meet the real-life inspirations for Fiz and her friends?
This, then, is the world of Junkyard by Bafta award-winning Jack Thorne, whose Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brought the story of the boy wizard to the stage. Lockleaze, though, is no Hogwarts.
It’s the summer of 1979, and optimistic degree-educated hippy Rick, inspired by the Adventure Play movement, comes to Bristol’s Lockleaze estate to work with the secondary school’s most troubled children in building a playground.
At first he is mocked, but one by one his small army of swearing, smoking teenage recruits grow. We meet feisty Fiz – in whom Rick sees leadership qualities – and her pregnant sister ‘Dirty’ Debbie. The father of Debbie’s baby might be skinhead Ginger, or Higgy, or someone else entirely, but not the fragile Talc, who harbours not-so-discreet desires for Fiz.
The playground is built, and the friends evolve from dismissive to becoming fiercely defensive of it, mounting moonlit patrols to ward off vandals and school authorities, who want to build a maths block on the site.
Junkyard is fast-paced and witty, with much of the action taking place around the playground, which in The Best of Us has a song of its own: “This is a spider, this is a ship, this is the thing where we do dip the dip, we haven’t quite worked out what this bit is, but we promise you it is the biz,” the cast sing, in a ballad that recurs throughout the play.
Elsewhere in the song, the playground becomes a metaphor for the lives of the young people “it’s broken and s**t and it doesn’t fit, as broken and s**t as we know we are.” Oh yes, in Junkyard, everybody swears. Even the headmaster.
Music plays an important part in Junkyard, but songs are delivered naturally and honestly, rather than with West End musical flamboyance, with accompaniment provided by a stripped-down three piece ska band of bass, guitar and drums.
The mainly young cast takes the audience on an anarchic emotional rollercoaster, from despair to joyful exuberance and back again, frequently breaking the fourth wall to include the crowd in the action, but never to such great effect as when Fiz stands at the front of the stage and closes the performance with: “We’ve been junk, you’ve been lovely, thanks for coming to watch us play.”
The Vench, we’re reminded, is nearly 40 years old. Now run by a social enterprise, the roughly-hewn wood has been replaced by sanded, varnished, health and safety-pleasing structures. A fitting legacy, you’d think, to the play pioneers, but, tellingly, the name of The Vench’s Facebook page is Save Lockleaze Adventure Playground.
The Vench and playgrounds like it are constantly at risk from politicians who have forgotten the value of play. In 2014, Wiltshire Council cut the number of youth workers from 144 to 25. That number is now down to seven – for 100,000 children.
In Marlborough, the future of our 1970s Youth Centre – saved from total closure by a handful of community champions, but providing nothing like the services to young people it did five years ago – remains in limbo. Devotion, a hangout for youngsters, could close if more volunteers are not found.
Junkyard, as well as being a thoroughly entertaining two-and-a-half hours of theatre, reminds us that we need to fight for places to play.
Junkyard is at Bristol Old Vic until March 18, then tours until April 29.
The third recital in this series at St Peter's Church in Marlborough was given (February 26) by the young British pianist, Adrian Oldland.
Adrian began his musical studies at the age of seven when he joined his local church choir and went on to gain a place at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music where be completed both a B Mus and an M Mus, studying under Alexander Ardakov.
Since then Adrian has gone on to establish himself as an exciting and formidable performer on the concert platform, noted especially for his sensitive interpretations of the works of Robert Schumann. He has taken part in many master classes with distinguished pianists such as Peter Donohoe and William Howard, and currently enjoys a busy career, performing regularly across the UK and throughout Europe.
Adrian Oldland began his recital with two of Schumann’s eight ‘Novelletten’ or short stories written in 1838. No 1 begins with a march-like staccato theme which gives way several times to a more languid and expansive theme, full of sunshine, before returning triumphantly to the original theme - two very different moods in one piece, very reflective of Schumann’s own personality.
Clearly at ease with Schumann, Adrian made much of the contrasts, highlighting the plangent mood of the trio theme. No 8 is a much grander piece, but again, Adrian developed the marked contrast in mood which the piece exploits. It opens with a passionate statement heard above an outpouring of rippling semi-quavers.
This gives way to a jovial trio before returning with renewed urgency to the first theme before a second trio changes the mood again; contrasts that were very well articulated.
Then comes the last movement, which is almost the same the length as the remainder of the piece and with its own dramatic contrasts in mood, first languid and reflective and then forceful and masculine.
All human emotions seem to be encapsulated in this movement of frantic contrasts of both key and mood. The movement seems rather disjointed ('ramshackle' was the word Adrian used!) as if these short movements were put together randomly. However the movement does have some shape with a repeated use of the initial march theme.
Technically this was a ‘tour de force’. However, although the contrasts were clear, I thought there was insufficient ‘storm’ and grandeur in the louder sections.
Beethoven’s Sonata No 30 in E major completed the first half of the recital. This is a fine work - both personal and intimate. The first movement is all froth separated by more tranquil sections, while the second movement, a ‘prestissimo’, is more urgent and compelling. It was well played, but lacked some of the drama which the composition requires.
Finally came the third movement a gentle cantabile - one of the finest melodies that Beethoven ever produced. It is like a wistful sigh or a gentle yearning. This theme is then developed into a series of variations of varying character and complexity until the listener is returned to the serenity of the opening melody.
Technically Adrian’s playing was impressive, but was lacking in emotional intensity - the initial theme lacking in personal engagement and languor.
The second part of the concert was devoted entirely to one work: Franz Liszt’s ‘Apres une lecture du Dante’. This enormous work known is known as a ‘Fantasia quasi Sonata’ and was published in 1856 as part of the second volume of his ‘Annees de Pelerinage’.
The piece was inspired, as the name suggests, by the extended poem ‘The Divine Comedy’ completed in 1320 by the greatest of all Italian poets Dante Alighieri. As in the poem Liszt transports the listener on a journey towards eternal bliss through Hell and Purgatory until Paradise is finally gained.
Liszt begins the work in the key of D Minor and makes frequent use of the ‘Devil’s interval’, the augmented fourth. Both musical devices were used by many composers to portray the wailing of souls and the hopelessness of Hell. Slowly this turbulent work transforms into a brighter F sharp major key as we are drawn up towards the Heaven.
The work ends with a series of the massive chords in the key of D major - reflecting the reality of redemption as we bask in the glory of Paradise.
Like the poem which was its inspiration, this is a very profound work - technically and emotionally demanding. Adrian certainly rose to the technical challenge, but the performance was lacking in emotional punch. I remained unmoved by the horrors of Hell, and the rapturous description of Heaven lacked real conviction.
It was a very good concert, and it was refreshing to hear Adrian introduce the works at the beginning. However his demeanor and playing were a little stiff and short on emotional input especially in the Liszt. He has the potential to go far, and we wish him well.
NOTE: the recital advertised for Sunday, 26 March has had to be postponed. It will now take place on Sunday, 25 June and will feature the tri of Simon Watterton (piano), Anna Cashell (violin) and Ashok Klouda (cello).
Review of The Bear, Bristol Old Vic, Saturday 18 February 2107
A polar bear squeezes through a child's window and...is very naughty.Dressing up. Photo by Paul Blakemore
Tales of polar bears could go cuddly or monstrous. Recently, for instance, I've been watching the TV show Fortitude set on an Arctic island. There, everyone packs a rifle in case they encounter one of the huge white beasts and are in danger of becoming its snack.
But this is a half term theatre show based on a Raymond Briggs story and performed at the Bristol Old Vic, so we can assume this is a Nice Bear - the kind teddies are based on, the vulnerable giant whose habitat is rapidly shrinking.
I'm here with my almost four year old who is as concerned with the snacks in my bag with the action on stage. (This is the kind of distraction that kids' theatre companies such as Pins and Needles Productions have to put up with and handle with glee.) Tilly - who loves writing and singing pop songs - finds she has a large and noisy house guest. He becomes her new pal, but it's not easy sharing with someone who splashes bath water everywhere, messes up mummy and daddy's bedroom, mistakes the floor for a toilet and the toilet for a bowl of drinking water, and breaks things.
For a while I thought it might be just another children's show with a simple story where the bear is a child stand-in, but it, as it turns out, was a much richer metaphor than that. As with other Briggs' stories like The Snowman, it finds the magical space between dreams and reality.
Lily Donovan makes a charming Tilly; by turns excited child who can't get to sleep without Teddy, to a full tantrum on the floor because Bear has left the house in a state, but most of the time in wonderment of her new best friend.
And although Bear in the bath and Bear dressed up and what to do with Bear's big poos are funny enough, it is Tilly riding Bear across the stage, Bear swimming and Bear reunited with Baby Bear at the North Pole which takes the story from kids' TV territory and transforms it into a beautiful, tearjerking piece of theatre for any age.
Find Me - before they do by J.S. Monroe (published 2017 by Head of Zeus Ltd)
J.S. Monroe's Find Me is a tremendous read. The story unfolds at a great pace and the narrative structure is used with great finesse to keep the reader puzzled and on the very edge of resolving the mystery.
Rosa, a troubled young Oxford undergraduate, has committed suicide. With the apparent and highly unsettling sightings of her by Jar, the young Irish writer with whom Rosa had an intense but all too brief affair, you spend the book’s first section wondering what kind of world you are entering.
It is only on page 93 that one of the characters lets you down none too gently with a very short sentence: “This is not a ghost story.” But there is still the web of events that may be coincidences misread as connections - or may not be.
The first part of Find Me tightens the mystery of Rosa’s apparent reappearance. The second part is an even tighter unravelling of that mystery. It is difficult to say much more without adding a 'spoiler alert'.
Find Me is a thriller that combines a young man’s post-bereavement hallucinations with a very taut cat and mouse chase involving a garden shed, the ‘dark web’ and hacking galore. And among a cast of strange characters there is at least one mouse – called Rosa - that drowns.
The main characters are very clearly drawn – with just enough left unsaid to keep you guessing. Much of the well controlled tension is produced by cleverly alternating the story between the main characters.
In part one, as the hunt for a vital hard drive continues, readers are in the privileged position of being first to find out what is on the hard drive. Or are they? Is Jar being ‘played’ – as one of his helpers suspects?
The author says he was inspired to change genres – switching from his spy novels to this psychological thriller – as he had so enjoyed reading The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. But J.S. Monroe cannot quite leave behind the world of spies spy he wrote about as Jon Stock. In telling us that, perhaps he too is laying a false trail for his readers. Watch out for it.
Having got as far into the ‘dark web’ as is good for one’s sanity, we then get drawn into recent history with the CIA’s use of nasty psychological experiments that surround the nasty theory – and practice – of ‘learned helplessness’.
There are clear echoes in Find Me of current controversies – not just about torture, but about the media and truth. We get right up to date with a George Orwell definition: “Journalism is printing what someone else doesn’t want printing. Everything else is public relations.” So we tiptoe into President Trump’s world where torture by the CIA is okay and all journalism should be PR for himself.
I was intrigued to read in the Marlborough.News report of the Marlborough launch for Find Me, that a friend of the author had devoured the book at one sitting – all eight hours of it. I did not manage the eight hour record, but I did finish it at one o’clock in the morning. Good finding…
You can read more about the author on Marlborough.News and Marlborough’s White Horse Bookshop still has signed copies of Find Me.