Christopher York’s debut play, Build a Rocket, is a one-woman show that tells the story of teenage mother Yasmin and her experience of challenges, heartbreak and joy while bringing up her son. Starring Serena Manteghi, winner of the Sunday Times’s ‘Best Female Solo Performance’, the play’s marathon solo-performance is its stand-out feature, facilitating unique approaches to storytelling that make for a challenging yet mind-broadening hour-and-twenty-minutes of theatre.
The play is coded by its origin and setting in Scarborough. Manteghi told The Student before the show that she was intrigued about how the play would be received by different audiences, and geographic locations in the play like road names are presented with connotations that would likely be more knowingly received in its origin city. However, they are explicit enough that the audience can catch on and make for a localised lens through which to portray a national narrative.
Other characters in the narrative are portrayed via Yasmin’s impressions of them. Manteghi’s skillful vocal and physical shifts to convey these characters allow the solo performance to momentarily escape Yasmin’s headspace and give the narrative room to stretch its wings. Manteghi’s performance also breaks the fourth wall on occasion without detracting from the insular loneliness of Yasmin’s life. Other characters’ dialogue is often signalled by Yasmin with pauses, allowing the audience to imagine the response. This cleverly enables the audience to become part of the narrative without compromising the insularity that characterises it.
The play’s narrative arc is textured with moments of sadness that elegantly and unexpectedly morph into ones of comedy. While plateauing at around the three-quarters mark – a rare lull in otherwise energetic story-telling – it gears up again for the close. The narrative is enhanced by Manteghi’s impressively synchronised movement to sound effects. The score in general reflectively shapes and responds to the on-stage action, with a standout example of this being the brooding, fever-dream-like music used during moments of emotional tension, creating a sonic motif that guides the audience’s emotional response.
Yasmin’s story is genuinely tear-jerking and a representation of the play’s wider theme of restricted social mobility. The desperate frustrations of Yasmin’s day-to-day struggle to stay afloat in a system apparently determined to drag her down get under the skin. Overall, this play is theatrical yet gritty, highlighting the ease of falling into unexpected circumstances and the difficulty of escaping them, while encouraging the audience to sympathise a little more with the real-life Yasmins of the world.
Build a Rocket
Image: Sam Taylor