Build a Rocket follows nearly two decades in the life of Yasmin (Serena Manteghi), a teenage single mum whose story treads a very familiar path along the bread-line life. After crashing out of her GCSE’s for a love affair with local DJ Danny, from posh ‘Dean Road’; Yasmin collides with the reality of adulthood after, as she scathingly describes it, she begins “carrying his spawn.”
Yasmin is very much a New Labour-era depiction of a working-class woman; adidas trackies, thinks wine is posh, an unfocused, vaguely Northern accent. Despite references to millennial technologies like Whatsapp or Tinder and the plays realist, gritty trappings, Build a Rocket feels dated. Surely a person in Yasmin’s position, a single-mother living on a part-time job, would be using poverty services like a charity food bank? These subtle flaws ultimately create serious chinks in the play’s desired realism, as cultural depictions of the working-class have changed over the last decade but York’s writing seems stuck around 2007.
Build a Rocket’s threadbare production, a square box surrounded by four park-like bollards, has a nice simplicity to it. It constantly ties Yasmin to the youthful life she was forced to abandon. Serena Manteghi’s performance is driven by a high-octane, breathless commitment but the lack of nuance in the writing is reflected in the never-ending fizz of Yasmin’s character. The play does contain some genuinely witty moments; Yasmin’s description of her new born baby (“beige raisin”) or when her GCSE results are presented as a game show (“here’s what you could have won: social mobility!”). But there is a peculiar development after Yasmin becomes pregnant that her narration becomes afflicted with the worst kind of slam poetry; “is it a foetus or baby? It drives me crazy” being a particularly egregious example.
Build a Rocket is a self-consciously heart-warming play that eventually crumbles beneath its own sentimentality. Its dated depiction of working-class desperation feels almost rosy compared the actualities of struggles in 2019. However, there are some interesting flourishes that suggest York and Manteghi could on to make genuinely thrilling theatre.
Featured Image: Theatre Deli.