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.


This January sees the return of firm Bristol favourite and one of the highlights of our 250th Anniversary year, Pink Mist. With the company now back in the Theatre, we caught up with returning cast members Peter Edwards (Taff) and Rebecca Killick (Lisa) to discuss bringing this special show back to life in 2017.

What excites you most about the return of Pink Mist?

Peter: It’s a story that still touches the hearts of so many families in the UK so what I’m most excited about is bringing it across the country and telling it to regional theatre audiences who haven’t yet had a chance to hear it.

Rebecca: I’m excited to have a new Arthur, this time played by the lovely Dan Krikler. I think it has really changed up what everyone is doing. It feels like we have a new energy that’s keeping the show fresh and, in a way, creating a new retelling of the same thing.

Peter: After two previous runs here in Bristol and a London transfer, it feels like we’ve performed this show a million times and yet Dan’s come in and will say words in rehearsals that make me go, ‘woah, I never realised that before…’ It’s a breath of fresh air.

Rebecca: Yeah. It’s really reminding us of and highlighting different aspects of the story that we maybe didn’t hone in on the last time we did it.

Pink MIst at BOV. Photo by Mark Douet. I80A0010.jpg

You’re both returning from the show’s run last year. What drew you back to these characters?

Rebecca: Lisa’s story is one that is probably so common for someone who’s married to or has a partner in the army who has gone through PTSD. It’s such a common story that’s still so resonant and current right now. There’s a lot of depth to her; her anger and bitterness towards the country, the government, the army and that whole world. It’s nice to delve into it again because Owen Sheers’ writing contains so much substance for her character.

Peter: I find it’s the strength of both the men and the women in the story that resonates with so many audience members. I remember during the last run, people came out to me to say, “Oh, your story really connected with me” or “It was really similar to my own experiences”. It really makes you want to keep on doing it because you realise you’re not just playing outlandish cartoon characters, you’re playing real people. That’s what I enjoy – what I relish. With Taff, I feel like there’s always more I can do, more places to go, more depths to take him to. That, and just the simplicity of the fact that it’s such a great script. The joy you have in saying the words is a real simple pleasure, but especially with Taff. I’ve never had a challenge like him with any part I’ve played before. He flexes the acting muscles well.

Pink MIst at BOV. Photo by Mark Douet. I80A0034.jpg

What’s been the biggest challenge in taking on these roles again?

Peter: I think the biggest challenge has been getting out of the mindset of, ‘Ooh! What kind of ways can I change this up?” or “What new nuances could I do?” Sometimes they can be completely wrong. We did a run through last week and I thought ‘Oh, wait. Maybe I’ll try out this scene a different way’, and it didn’t feel right. Not because it wasn’t the same as before, but because it wasn’t right for the character. So it’s all about reconnecting with the original reason as to why Owen wrote these characters, rather than just trying to be different.

Rebecca: Yeah, I’d agree with that. It’s been about a year since we performed the show last and you, as an actor and as a person, change so much within a year. I feel like we’ve all come back in with a fresh energy and ideas but there’s something so solid about the story as it stands that you can’t veer too far away from what we had originally, especially since it did work so well the first time around.

Peter Edwards, Rebecca Killick, Zara Ramm, Rebecca Hamilton. Photo Mark Douet.jpg

You’re hitting 11 other venues following your stint here. How are you feeling about spreading this Bristol story across the UK?

Rebecca: Very excited. Knowing that at every venue we go to there will be people who haven’t yet heard the story and seeing how it resonates with them. It’s a story that’s still so current now – a story that will never get old. For many people the fear of war is constant and I think this show paints a really clear picture of how it affects the people who are directly involved. Playing one of the female roles on the other side of it, it’s great for me to see this impact on women in the audience as well.

Peter: It’s going to be interesting. I remember when the idea of touring other venues first came about almost a year and a half ago. This was even before we went to London. People were asking me, ‘Are you going to change the accent? Are you going to base it in London? Newcastle? etc.” But you just don’t need to. Although Owen chose Bristol, it could be set anywhere because, at the centre of it, it isn’t the location but the story at the heart of it. It’s the effects that war has had on the many females, males, family friends, colleagues involved. My excitement comes from being able to take this story to some amazing regional theatres across the country and have their communities come see us and have Owen’s story spread.

Pink MIst at BOV. Photo by Mark Douet. I80A9969 press.jpg

With it being such a hard-hitting show, have you found it difficult to inject humour into the rehearsal room?

Peter: Rebecca and I have just finished up another production together in Bath and I think, particularly with us, we find it particularly challenging not to laugh at each other all the time

Rebecca: Not corpsing is the main problem!

Peter: Yeah, that’s the toughest thing. We just have to look at each other and we’ll start laughing – no matter how serious the play is. Sometimes even because the play is serious you can’t help catching each other’s eye and having to bite your tongue.

Rebecca: I think just having Dan, who’s so brilliant, has created a really lively new energy. The five of us who returning for the tour had already built up a really close bond but Dan’s integrated really nicely into that. We all feel really comfortable with each other and get on really well, so any moments in the show that need a little light heartedness or an injection of humour come quite naturally to us. I think that both Directors, John (Retallack) and George (Mann), are very good at drawing that out of us as well.

Peter: Despite it being a very hairy story, it’s a very light rehearsal room. We have so much fun. Even in our warm-ups we can have a laugh, a big joyous thing, and then when the time comes we really switch it on.

Rebecca: It is a dark story but it’s also an important one. The whole point is that there’s a sense of hope and a lightness to the telling of it and I can’t wait to share it in so many places across the UK.

Pink Mist returns to Bristol Old Vic for 7 shows only 23-28 Jan before setting off on its national-tour 31 Jan-1 Apr. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

‘Chatting Back’ with Made in Bristol

under-a-cardboard-sea-rehearsal-room-photographer-jack-offord-low-res-3276Over the past eight weeks, Made in Bristol, our resident company of theatre-makers in-training, have been busy working alongside Wyldwood Arts and the residents of St Monica Wills on the creative arts project ‘Chat Back’. Here, Made in Bristol trouper Maddie talks us through the whole experience and how it’s helped to develop their theatre-making skills.

I’m Maddie Coward, a member of Made in Bristol 16/17. I’m 18 and I finished my A levels in July of this year. Prior to starting Made in Bristol this September I had been a member of Young Company since I was about 13.

For me, Made in Bristol is a great opportunity to learn in a very hands on way which I don’t think I’d be getting on another course.
The first piece of work we’ve been involved in has been an inter-generational project working with residents at St Monica Wills House, in collaboration with Wyldwood Arts, to create and perform work with and about them.

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Wyldwood Arts had already established a weekly group with them called ‘Chat Back’ which we soon became an integrated part of. Chat Back is a group that allows residents to talk about their lives in a safe environment; it also uses a few small dramatic exercises to help keep those who are able moving.

Made in Bemy (as we nicknamed them after their Bedminster address) have been a group of funny, engaging and passionate people who were a joy to devise with.
For me the most striking thing about meeting them was that they didn’t act their age. In just a few words we could see the teenager coming out in all of them, which I guess brings me on to the central theme that we decided to structure our work around: ‘When you were 17…’. While for me that’s only a year ago and nothing that special, to the residents it seemed to bring back youthfulness to them as they talked.

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As theatre makers, I found we were really challenged by this as it involved the teaching techniques we’ve developed with Young Company as much as our own performance skills. For us, the constant aim was to make something representative of the people we knew and that was faithful to what they would want.

In essence, I’d say it was a big lesson in dramaturgy. Instead of making a piece from scratch, we learned to act as facilitators and enabled them to tell their own stories. This was so incredibly exciting to be a part of and we hope that, with this experience under their belts, they’ll be able to continue telling their stories for years to come – and I can say now, they have a lot more to tell…

To find out more about Made in Bristol and further projects our Outreach department are involved in, click here.

The Snow Queen Rehearsal Diary – Week 5

Dylan Wood.jpgWho’d a thunk it? We’ve already reached the final week of rehearsals before Tech! Here, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School alumni and Peter O’Toole Prize-winner Dylan Wood brings us up to date on all the latest antics from The Snow Queen rehearsal room in anticipation of previews from 2 Dec.

So we have hit the final week of rehearsals, how that happened I do not know but we are here and its all shaping up fine and dandy.

The first half of week 5 was all about going back to the beginning of the second act and doing exactly what we did with the first act – finesse, edit and fine tune. Going back over everything slowly has proved to be every bit as interesting as when we first looked at the scenes. We are constantly building and inventing, keeping it fresh and fun, but also stripping back and chucking things that maybe aren’t quite right anymore or hold things up a bit. Having such an creative and inventive company very much keeping us on our toes. Everything about this play is BRAND NEW. Everything you will see and hear has been created from scratch by our company; the Writer, Director, musicians, us actors, the designers, everyone! There’s never a moment when we aren’t on our toes.

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On Wednesday, we were joined in our rehearsal room by the creative team and Bristol Old Vic staff as we set up to do our first audience run-through of the show. There were smiles all around the room before it even began. You should have seen these smiles when it finished… from ear to ear, totally cheesing! Not to mention a few tear drops. I did tell you last week and I’ll repeat it now, ‘bring tissues’! We were all happy with the run and overwhelmed with the feedback given but we knew we still had plenty of work to do.

We used the following day to check over any bumps that we encountered in the run, any scenes that didn’t quite flow properly and things that needed to be cut or jigged around. Essentially we went back to fine tune again, something we’ve become pretty good at! Looooads of things changed after our first run and a good few cuts were made, keeping us, as I said, on our toes. Its all for the good of the production and it’s now flowing smoother than ever.

This then brings us on to tech! We were introduced to our changing rooms, our incredible costumes, our outstanding set, our sensational lighting/sound and, of course, the magical Bristol Old Vic Stage. Its all just too much, I love it! Bring on opening night!

Also, we all discovered this week that Lee is extremely good at 4 square. Literally unstoppable – which means he takes the crown! Congrats mate… about time!

This Christmas we round off the year with our epic adaptation of The Snow Queen. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

The Snow Queen Rehearsal Diary – Week 4

Dylan Wood.jpgEmotions are still high as The Snow Queen company fought back smiles, laughter and tears (of joy) to reach the end of their first run-through.
Here, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School alumni and Peter O’Toole Prize-winner Dylan Wood brings us up to date on all the latest antics from The Snow Queen rehearsal room.

Veeeeeery much powering ahead now and, dare I say, I think we may actually be ahead of schedule! But hey, lets not jinx anything…
Lots of fantastic stuff came out of week 4 and we’ve made it to the end of the play. Wow!

Every single day we are now putting an hour or so aside each morning to go through the songs and choreography. As soon as we are all warmed up, we gather around the piano and sing through all the songs from the scenes we’ll be working on that day. This is a great way to make sure everything is ticking along nicely – tuning in those lovely harmonies, ready to sync them up with our show’s outrageous choreography .

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Smiles, laughter and tears were all a huge part of this week (the tears were very much tears of joy, don’t worry) as we made our way through the ‘Robber Family’ scene, straight through to the grand finale. I definitely advise you to bring some tissues!
Lee, the Director, has managed to blend absolutely hilarious moments into these scenes that are outstandingly beautiful. These moments are dotted all over the place and, whenever I get the chance to sit back and have a look for myself, I get totally blown away.

Unfortunately, we had very little time for games this week. We’ve been battering through this play, getting so much work done and creating so many magical moments so the last thing we wanted to do was disrupt our flow. However, we did create a ‘4 Square’ court which is just dying to be used. I’ll be sure to fill you in with who has topped the ‘4 Square’ leader board by the end of week 5. But for now I guess Jess is still wearing the crown from week 4 – Game on!

So, going into week 5, we’ll have the vast majority of it to continue finessing and fine-tuning. I imagine we will do a couple of runs, then BOOM! it’ll be Friday and we can begin with Tech. Not long at all until we are up and running now. Far too exciting!

This Christmas we round off the year with our epic adaptation of The Snow Queen. For more information and to book tickets, click here.