In the ‘Junkyard’
The writer of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child teamed up with top London director and award-winning composer to produce a play that's very personal
I’m a bit excited about Junkyard, the latest production to roll into the Rose Theatre at Kingston. It’s a coming-of-age musical with some pretty impressive theatre muscle behind it.
Jack Thorne is the writer, and in case you’re not sure you know him, let me tell you that you’ll most certainly know of his work. Jack is one of the insanely clever writers behind phenomenally successful Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
It’s directed by Jeremy Herrin, who also directed the hugely successfully and award-winning world premiere of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies for the RSC which played in the West End and on Broadway.
And the music is by Stephen Warbeck, one of the most successful British composers working across film, television and theatre today. His film credits include Shakespeare in Love, for which he won an Oscar, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Mrs Brown and Billy Elliot.
The Junkyard story, set in 1979, is about a group of teenage misfits who grudgingly agree to help well-meaning Rick build a junk playground in Bristol. It was inspired by the true story behind the Lockleaze playground in Bristol, which Jack’s father was involved in.
I was lucky enough to collar these three talents for a chat, as well as Calum Callaghan who plays Rick…
So, have you lot worked together before?
Jeremy Herrin: This is the first time I’ve directed one of Jack’s shows, despite having talked about Junkyard for about 6 or 7 years. I hope it’s not the last.
I’ve worked with Stephen a lot. First as Stephen Daldry’s assistant director at the Royal Court, then as a grown up (sort of) at Globe, NT West End and even Broadway.
Stephen Warbeck: I have worked with Jeremy on many productions – this is my first with Jack.
Ok, so Stephen and Jeremy have history, but how did the three of you come together for this project?
Jack: Jeremy was working at the Royal Court and asked whether I had anything to talk about – I decided to go for it and pitched Junkyard – a strange musical about play – and because he’s a mad man he liked the idea – and seven or eight years later we got the chance to actually make it happen.
Jeremy: Jack cooked up this wonderful story and I thought Stephen had the soul and humour to be a good choice to write the music. I also guessed Stephen and Jack would like each other.
Stephen: Jack and Jeremy had discussed the project and asked me to be involved. We had various meetings, an intensive week together, and two workshops before rehearsals started. All of this spread over about a year.
Why a musical? This story doesn’t seem like obvious ‘musical theatre’ material?
Jack: Musicals allow for two possibilities – one, the form is quite rigid so you can be quite anarchic with it, particularly if you have the amazing Stephen Warbeck writing the songs. Two, they allow you to see inside the mind of someone – which, when you’ve got a group of kids who aren’t good at expressing their feelings, is very useful indeed.
Jeremy: We didn’t want to do an obvious musical, but we thought these characters could express themselves musically. You can tell any story a multitude of ways and this always felt like a good way to honour these characters.
For you Jack, it’s a very personal story – you gained inspiration from your own father’s work building children’s playgrounds … what made you want to bring it to the stage?
Jack: I think it’s really important work, and it was an opportunity to celebrate it.
Jack, as one of the writers of the incredibly successful, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, how on earth do you follow that?
Jack: You pretend it didn’t happen, and try and become a normal writer again, Potter was amazing, but it was its own thing, I was determined to keep writing the strange and weird I’d been writing before. Junkyard has been a dream of a project, I do think we have the greatest of casts and in Jeremy a director who’s prepared to try the outlandish – he is very brilliant.
So, Stephen – a group of misfits making music using junk – this is a long way from Shakespeare in Love for which you won an Academy Award isn’t it…
Stephen: Yes, it is a long way, but composing for film and theatre requires us to adapt. We need to try and create a musical world that is appropriate for each project, and the approaches are often very diverse.
Did you enjoy the process? The songs have been described as ‘delightfully riotious and disordered, playful and funny’ – it sounds like you had a blast?
Stephen: I have massively enjoyed it. The songs, I hope, provide insight into characters’ inner lives, while maintaining the rough form of junk rock that we have gone for.
Calum, you’re a bit quite in in the corner, but as Rick you’re the one who brings together the teenagers from the area… are you like the pied piper?
Calum: Haha ermm I think Rick’s a lot less sinister than the Pied Piper turned out to be! But yeah in a way there’s similarities, he comes to a town, finds these kids that no one knows what to do with, and takes them on a journey of adventure and self discovery. Maybe I should have asked for a magic flute during rehearsals.
Yes, a flute would certainly have worked well for the musical.
Calum, the character of Rick was loosely based on Jack’s dad… have you met Mr Thorne?
Calum: I did have the pleasure of meeting Mr Thorne, and fortunately he really enjoyed the show and was very nice about my portrayal of him. When we met in Bristol I said you must be very proud of Jack, to which he obviously replied, ‘yes’. But he said it had very little to do with him but I said Junkyard had EVERYTHING to do with him. It was lovely to see how humble and unassuming he was.
Rick definitely has those traits and I was grateful to Jack for any snippets he gave me about his dad during rehearsals. I also used a few of the characteristics of the head teacher of my primary school ‘Turnham’ in Brockley. His name was Mr Rajeski. He was an amazing storyteller and wasn’t afraid to make a fool of himself for the benefit of his pupils. We bloody loved him for it!
Jack: Can I add that my dad was so chuffed to have someone so handsome and charismatic playing him!
So guys, working together like this must be fairly intense, and you must get to know each other pretty well…
Jack: The whole thing was a blast.
Jeremy: Um. I suppose you get to see each other under a bit of pressure, but Junkyard has been a pretty relaxed experience and Stephen and Jack are both big people with a sense of perspective. We have had many laughs along the way and I hope that that good humour is infused into the show. My chair collapsed during an intense production meeting, but that is filed under ‘you had to be there’.
Calum: I don’t think there was a single day of rehearsals we weren’t laughing. It was the funniest rehearsal room I’ve ever been in. Jeremy, Jack and Stephen are all funny on their own, so combined they become this stupidly talented comedy trio!
Okay guys… I have five quick fire questions for each of you. Ready?
1. First job ever? McDonald’s party entertainer.
2. Biggest influences? Anton Chekhov, Kevin Williamson.
3. Best advice you’ve been given? How you behave will ultimately reflect itself in your work – try and respect other people’s work.
4. Any first night rituals? I have a pair of lucky socks, they’re yellow, they were on my feet when I got married and my son was born.
5. If you hadn’t been a writer/director/composer/actor what would you have been? I want to pinch Peter Crouch’s line and say ‘a virgin’ – truthfully, I think a lot less happy, I’m so happy to have found a career I love and where people are prepared to put up with me.
JEREMY HERRIN, it’s your turn…
1. First job ever? Hospital porter
2. Biggest influences? Radiohead, Rothko, Stephen Daldry, the late great Howard Davies
3. Best advice you’ve been given? Put two problems together and you’ll find a solution.
4. Any first night rituals? Get drunk
5. If you hadn’t been a writer/director/composer/actor what would you have been? A disappointed worker in a bookshop.
STEPHEN WARBECK, you’re up…
1. First job ever? Theatre Royal, Stratford east 1976.
2. Biggest influences? Brecht, Weill, Eisler, Dessau.
3. Best advice you’ve been given? Be as mad as you are
4. Any first night rituals? Making cards for company with oil pastels
5. If you hadn’t been a writer/director/composer/actor what would you have been? An Architect (bad)
And CALUM CALLAGHAN…
1. First job ever? I can’t remember what was earlier, an Easter egg advert I done for Woolworths or when I went on tour with Take That as a mini Mark Owen!
2. Biggest influences? The first time I watched an actor and knew that’s what I wanted to do was seeing Daniel Day Lewis in Last of the Mohicans. It’s still my favourite film.
3. Best advice you’ve been given? Not really one single piece of advice, but my mum and dad raised me to always work hard when I was given an opportunity, always be polite and grateful, and also to enjoy myself, because life’s too short to not enjoy what you do.
4. Any first night rituals? I’m not a religious person, but on first nights, and sometimes the first week of a new job, I’ll stand somewhere dark backstage and say a prayer to my family and loved ones as a reminder of why I’m doing this and who I’m doing it for.
5. If you hadn’t been a writer/director/composer/actor what would you have been? That’s a tough one… I was lucky enough to get a presenting job when I was a teenager which took me to a NASA space camp in Alabama, and I got to experience some of the steps it takes to be an astronaut… so in a fantasy land that would be my answer but I’m nowhere near smart enough, haha, so in reality I’d say some sort of extreme sport athlete. I love me an adrenaline rush!!