It’s been a great week full of many firsts. The first day. The first sing-song. The first chat. The first stretch. The first play. There’s been a real buzz in the air these last couple of days and it’s been great to get stuck in and start to unravel the world of Junkyard, written by the talented (and lovely) Jack Thorne. It was invaluable to have Jack with us at the start of the week as he gave us insight into his inspiration behind writing a musical depicting the creation of an adventure playground in Bristol; it makes sense that he would pick this location. He has a strong connection to The Vench Adventure Playground in Lockleaze, Bristol, a well-known playground set up in 1979, of which Jack’s father worked and Jack himself played. This connection has been a useful anchor point for us in understanding the Junkyard world and so much ground has been covered. We’ve drawn from different sources this week. There’s been research compiled by myself; research shared by the company covering a range of topics including music, youth culture, carpentry and the Adventure Playground movement to name a few. Tom Williams (researcher and former senior playworker at The Vench) shared his research into shared memories of adventure playgrounds and knowledge of the Adventure Playground movement. Paula Garfield, the artistic director of Deafinitely Theatre, led a very engaging session on her experiences as a deaf adult growing up in the 70’s, which was extremely useful for building the narrative of Loppy, who uses hearing aids.
Discovery and connection are two themes that really resonate with what we have achieved this week via research and text but also through the exploration of music and movement. Songs are beginning to take shape and we’re starting to understand the meaning behind them and their function within the production. Stephen Warbeck, the composer, has done some great work with the cast skilled in being able to bring the gobby, anarchic qualities out of the group as well as the more tender and vulnerable moments. It’s been really enjoyable listening to everyone sing their hearts out and witnessing the infectious, community spirit that takes hold of everyone, including myself; I’m always quietly humming a dodgy harmony!*cheesy grin* Polly Bennett, our movement director, wasted no time in getting our cast up on their feet. It was interesting to see how movement can communicate so much - moods, internal and external conflicts, dynamics between characters and the unique energy that each character expels. Gold. Of course, I scribbled down furiously all the nuggets we could use and play with once getting it up on its feet.
It’s been a whirlwind, with a lot of people coming and going and it has been amazing to share space with people who are passionate about what they do and are supportive of what the production hopes to achieve. Equally, it has been really encouraging to hear of the support from Bristol and the Lockleaze community, including Vench users old and new. This means something to people. No doubt then, one of the highlights of the week was travelling to Bristol on Wednesday to visit the Bristol Old Vic where our Junkyard journey will be kicking off in February. The Bristol Old Vic hosted a launch of the production at the Vench, and rightly so. Jeremy Herrin and the cast talked to press, took photographs, interacted with children and young people that use the playground and also had the opportunity to run-around the playground themselves. I saw how quickly connections were built to a place that brought and continues to bring so much joy, hope and safety to the community that surrounds it. It was so wonderful to speak to Steve who had been connected to the playground since it’s birth, and John who was a playworker for many years. Between them, they told us stories of community, fearlessness, fights, games, drama and special memories. Yes, it was tough at times, but it was clear that the playground was a place of safety and fun that gave the children, and sometimes even the adults, a break from the struggles of life. It was a place to blow off some steam and be free.
It’s truly been a fantastic week and everyone is even more determined to tell an authentic story shedding light on a contemporary issue that sees Adventure Playgrounds across the country slowly closing it’s shutters. Children need Play! Looking forward to Week Two when we will get Junkyard up on it’s feet!