In its essence, Build A Rocket is nothing we haven’t seen or heard before. A teenage girl gets mixed up with a wrong ‘un, gets pregnant, struggles for cash, might not have had the best upbringing… It’s a template working class story given a 2010s make over. In parts, it wanders very close to cliché. We get the club scene with a jäger downing gaggle of girls; the obligatory tinder swipe left-right scene (though this has a nicely done ending); at one point, she talks us through her incomings vs. outgoings. Really, if you didn’t know by now that life on minimum wage is difficult, have you ever even left Hampstead?
But what elevates it is a stunning performance by Serena Manteghi, who plays pivotal character Yasmin, as well as her circle of friends, family and authority figures. She uses the kids’ roundabout themed stage like a gymnast would use a pommel horse, swinging around it dropping spoken word rhymes among straighter theatre. Her faultless, instant switches in tempo, mood and character – helped by excellent lighting design – have the precision of a gymnast too. Full marks for execution from all judges.
Yasmin, the character most appropriate to her playing age and the one she spends most of her time playing, is very good, but actually the least compelling of her characterisations. Her mother figure has real depth and subtlety and leaves you longing for a sinister, revelatory twist; her male figures are superbly vivid; she even excels at the childlike motions of Yasmin’s son Jack.
Occasionally, she steps out of the main story. Writer Christopher York has added in some game/chat show interludes to illuminate certain parts of the narrative. Given the general pattern of the piece it’s no surprise when one of them is a Jeremy Kyle spoof. At one point she says, “I’ve seen how this story ends” and that feels true for the audience too – once you know what trajectory this is on, it’s a coin toss whether they plump for the happy or tragic ending. The poetry and patter can be enlivening, but it’s not big on surprises.
This is Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough’s first venture into the Fringe, here directed by Paul Robinson, and they’re a welcome regional dimension to the Pleasance programme. Given the town’s status as Yorkshire’s teen pregnancy capital the subject matter is understandable, even though it’s a well-worn path that ticks most Northern working-class theatre stereotypes. Manteghi, though, rightly receives a standing ovation, for the performance, if not perhaps for the originality of the story.