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. 

2 Stars.

Featured Image: Theatre Deli.


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