With the set now built and rehearsals continuing to heat up, we jumped at the chance to catch up with Junkyard Set and Costume Designer Chiara Stephenson. Here she reveals the inspiration behind the show’s interactive set and how it all comes together.
Hi, I’m Chiara and I’m fortunate enough to be the Set and Costume Designer on Junkyard.
The thing I always enjoy when working on any new production is carrying out all the research. I love letting new ideas stew in my brain and with Junkyard that’s basically meant marinating in all sorts of old books and images of the 70s to really understand the look and feel of the time. It was a delight to discover all the bonkers structures and playgrounds the kids of the 60s and 70s created, well before ‘Health and Safety’ kicked in. The precarious and dangerous nature of their constructions was what I found most inspiring, as was their fearlessness in jumping off them from ahigh.
Following a visit to the Lockleaze playground the play is based on and talking with some of the old workers, I was also really inspired by the way they’ve reincarnated ‘The Vench’ over the years. Each time the playground got damaged or vandalised, their attitude was just ‘f**k it, let’s rebuild it bigger and better’. That defiant attitude is something we’ve really tried to capture in the show, along with that sense of danger and precariousness.
I actually used to play at an adventure playground myself as a youngster. The Battersea Park playground in London was always my go to. I don’t know if it’s because I was a lot smaller, but I remember the playground being epic in size and much more dangerous. In fact one of my earliest memories at my nursery as a 3-4 year old was being given a few bits of small wood and a hammer and nails. The freedom and trust was great and something I think you don’t find so much these days.
Junkyard is unique to anything I’ve ever worked on because we’re giving our actors similar free-reign to build the whole set themselves. The show starts with what is seemingly a pile of junk on the ground but, over the course of Act 1, each of the kids get to channel their madly creative spirits into constructing the junkyard playground itself. The design relies on huge levels of interaction from the actors. It’s a real logistical challenge for everyone so if we pull it off its definitely a salute to the cast more than me.
Working on this show with Director Jeremy Herrin has been amazing. He’s a heavyweight really and I’ve had the amazing chance to throw all sorts of ideas his way, trusting that he’ll sieve out all the dodgy ones and pick out the keepers. He’s totally game for lots of play and experimentation. The one thing we are not short of in the making of this show is ideas, and silly ideas at that. Which ones will actually end up in the show, we’ll just have to wait and see…
I’d love to tell you the funniest moment so far, but with this production it really is impossible to answer! These moments are all too frequent due to the playful nature of the show and everyone working on it. It really does feel like we are all a bunch of kids mucking about in a playground as we weave the show into something explosive and exciting. Hopefully that will all come across on-stage and the audience will enjoy everything we’ve created!
Bristol Old Vic’s Spring Season continues with Junkyard 24 Feb-18 Mar. For more info and to book tickets, click here.