Building the ‘Junkyard’ set with Chiara Stephenson

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.

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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.

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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.

Junkyard Rehearsal Diary – Week 2

WHAT a week it’s been! We’ve officially set up camp and are getting our boots muddy. There’s a lot to do but we’re doing it with a lot of positive energy, focus and my favourite word – Fun. The music is becoming more and more goose-pimply and the movement and choreography is helping to support the journey of characters and the mood of scenes. AND we have a new edition to the Junkyard family – a spanking new rehearsal set to play with…and she’s Gawjuss. Yaass! *finger clicks*

So! Monday morning started off with a grand tour of the rehearsal set by our production manager, Simon. We ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ and asked many questions before we were left to it. It was handy that Simon put markings on the floor to have a clear idea of the three spaces we’ll be performing in – Bristol Old Vic, Theatr Clwyd and The Rose Theatre in Kingston. It was also very informative to have our designer, Chiara Stephenson, in the room this week to shed some light on her vision. So much to take in but our director Jeremy is committed to honouring each element of the production: Stephen’s music, Chiara’s vision for the set and Jack’s words.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing words come to life and Jeremy wasted no time in getting scenes up on their feet and getting the company comfortable navigating their way around their new home. It’s always so interesting to see how many layers can be revealed when you have the opportunity to feel it in the moment. The cast are already taking risks and making good choices and it’s nice to see our characters becoming more distinct as time goes by. What’s really useful about having a rehearsal set is that we have had the chance to explore the different modes of storytelling, as well as how to best represent different locations.

Speaking of locations, on Wednesday we filmed a trailer for the show at Oasis Gardens Adventure Playground in Stockwell (where I grew up. Zoop! Zoop!). It was so much FUN. It was the first time the company had been in costume; it was like walking into the 70’s. I almost wanted to run home, dig out my disco pants and purchase a purple afro. The company were sure troopers! Despite the cold, the energy was high, there was lots of laughing and joking, shaking and jiving. I won’t say too much about the trailer as I don’t want to spoil the fun but it should give a flavour of what’s to come. Next week we’ll carry on with staging the show, working with props and begin our costume fittings.

Our world is taking shape, and as we continue to unpick and examine the text the more layered the production becomes.

Written by Michal Keyamo
Originally published at: https://headlong.co.uk/work/junkyard


Bristol Old Vic’s Spring Season continues with Junkyard 24 Feb-18 Mar. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

Junkyard Rehearsal Diary – Week 1

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!

Written by Michal Keyamo
Originally published at: https://headlong.co.uk/work/junkyard


Bristol Old Vic’s Spring Season continues with Junkyard 24 Feb-18 Mar. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

Ferment Fortnight Preview | Adam Kammerling

Ferment Fortnight kicks off its biannual explosion of work-in-progress and scratch performances from 26 Jan. Here Adam Kammerling gives us an inside look into his superhero inspired world. Catch it at the Wardrobe Theatre on the festival’s opening night.


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Hey yo. My name’s Adam Kammerling. I’m a spoken word artist from London and I will be performing my new piece of work on Fri 27 for Ferment Fortnight. I’m very excited to be bringing the piece to Bristol as after its first scratch (which was exciting but ultimately woeful), the first place it got a proper showing was Ferment 2016. It was there, in the bright lights of Bristol Old Vic studio, I realised that this was something I needed to keep working with.

The piece is a combination of spoken word and acrobatic dance. It’s about the fact that heroes are AWESOME but highly detrimental for the world, especially dudes in the world, especially young dudes who LOVE the X-Men (me). I’ve enlisted four actual super humans to help me tell the story – Eric Mitchell, stunt man extraordinaire, who can do a backflip like you or I can eat a biscuit. Jacob Smart, founder of Parkour dance, contemporary dance improvisation master, who lives much of his life upside down and in the air. Keiran Merrick, who is half human, half Music Production Centre. And Si Rawlinson who is the bendiest breakdancer in the northern hemisphere.

It’s quite a team so getting the funding to make it happen was a very exciting moment, thanks Arts Council England! We’ve taken the piece to Peterborough, and performed at The Albany and at Southbank for Being A Man festival. Every show is a nerve-wracker. The biggest challenge has simply been finding the ways in which this combination of mediums can work together. It’s very new and it has been a very experimental journey, that surprises us every time we get in the rehearsal rooms.

I’m very much looking forward to bringing the piece back to the place where I feel the idea hit puberty. It’s like going back to your Yr 9 self (I was a late bloomer) and showing off your new, totally macho facial hair.

And on that note, see you in the theatre!


Ferment Fortnight takes place at The Wardrobe Theatre 26-28 Jan before returning to Bristol Old Vic 31 Jan-2 Feb. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

Ferment Fortnight Preview | Annie Siddons

Ferment Fortnight kicks off its biannual explosion of work-in-progress and scratch performances from 26 Jan. Here Annie Siddons gives us an inside look into the world of Dennis of Penge. Catch it at the Wardrobe Theatre on the festival’s opening night.


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Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved with Ferment
I first got involved with Ferment when Emma B, the doness of Ferment, came to see my first Edinburgh show, Raymondo. She liked it and so got right behind our second show How (not) to live in Suburbia which we did an early scratch of in July 2015 . We love Ferment and its audience so we wanted to do the earliest scratch of the new show with you.

How would you describe your latest show in the Ferment Fortnight
Dennis of Penge is about a woman at the end of her rope who meets a mysterious figure from her past in a chicken shop.

It’s about survival, poverty and ecstasy in the city. The scratch you will see is literally me reading you some poetry. The final show will involve some other performers and some live music.

What do you expect the audience will take away from your piece?
I hope they enjoy the story and the words and the way it’s told and the fact that they are the first people to see it.

What’s been the biggest challenge/most exciting moment so far?
The biggest challenge is finding time to write. I don’t have writer’s block or procrastination – I am a rigorous mofo – but I do have a tiny company – 2.5 people – with lots to do – plus two kids etc – and I have to be really disciplined about carving out writing time and sometimes it gets to be point where I am coming out in spiritual and actual hives and I just have to go away and write for a few days till I calm down.

What are you looking forward to most over the Fortnight?
We’re flying in and out – see above for the reasons why – not literally flying – we are not  grand – but there’s so much good stuff – even in the first couple of days I’d be watching House of Blakewell and Adam Kammerling for starters. I love finding new artists to be inspired by and make friends slash future collabs with.


Ferment Fortnight takes place at The Wardrobe Theatre 26-28 Jan before returning to Bristol Old Vic 31 Jan-2 Feb. For more info and to book tickets, click here.