Preview: ‘Build a Rocket’ at the Town and Gown Theatre

Thomas Hayes 7 July 2021
SandCastle Theatre Company

‘Name: Yasmin. Size: None of your f%$ing business. Special ability: Being. Hard. As.’

Blasting off at the Town and Gown Theatre from the 19th to 22nd July is Christopher York’s ‘Build a Rocket’, SandCastle Theatre Company’s professional debut! The company, founded by third-years Rebecca Mayer and Georgie Deri, will be introducing York’s story of triumphing over adversity to the Cambridge theatre scene.

Starring Harriet Wilton, this subversive one-woman show tackles pregnancy, poverty and privilege head on as it brings to life the story of witty sixteen-year-old Yasmin from the small seaside town of Scarborough. After falling pregnant and abandoned to face the ordeal alone, Yasmin discovers that the very thing that seemed it would break her may become her making. I talked with Georgie Deri, the show’s director, about the production.

TCS: Talk to me about how the idea to found SandCastle Theatre came about.

Georgie: Well it’s actually not as exciting a story as you might expect – I’d emailed the guy at Town and Gown to see if we could put ‘Build a Rocket’ on there, and he really took a liking to the sound of the show, so asked if we wanted to pitch the show as part of their programme rather than just hiring out the venue. We managed to get a slot, which was really exciting, but on the contract we saw that you had to put the name of your theatre company! Becca and I just thought oh God, we’re just going to have to do it aren’t we?! I put a message on my family group chat asking about any ideas for names, and in the end it was my granny who came up with the name SandCastle: I’m from Bridlington on the East Yorkshire coast, and Becca’s from Newcastle, and so Sand came from Bridlington and Castle from Newcastle. It was such a cute idea from my granny and I’m very glad she came up with it! That’s how we founded the company now, but it’s always been something we wanted to do – it all just ended up happening quite quickly. Our ultimate goal would be to have our own theatre venue, so hopefully this is just the start!

TCS: How does directing professional theatre as part of your own company compare with the directing of student theatre that you’ve done before?

Georgie: It’s very different: there’s less of a buffer if anything goes wrong, because you’re putting your own money on the line, so that was always quite scary. For example, buying publicity during Covid had risks attached due to the uncertainty of putting on live theatre. Finding rehearsal spaces has also been harder when you don’t have the support of the ADC, as well as finding storage space and workshop spaces to build set. I think the main challenge was that when you pitch a show professionally you’re expected to already have all your publicity – we shot the posters and the trailer for the show in October, which is so different to when you pitch a show at the ADC because usually you’d arrive with a less fleshed-out idea and they’d give you a slot and the publicity is arranged from that point onwards, so needing to come up with a vision for the show so early on was a huge change. One advantage of this has been that it takes a lot of pressure off the rehearsal period, as it got a lot out of the way early on.

TCS: What kind of people are going to love ‘Build a Rocket’?

Georgie: I know everyone has this answer for their show because they love it, but I really do think it has a lot for everyone. It takes such a stereotypical story that everyone knows about – a teenager from the North falling pregnant – and completely turns it on its head. Rather than this being Yasmin’s downfall, it becomes the maker of her in such a beautiful way: usually in drama that deals with this topic, the main character becomes sacrificed at the expense of their child.

However, in ‘Build a Rocket’, although her child Jack becomes the main character within her life, it’s so nice that the audience gets to see Yasmin develop as a character as well. It’s a one-woman show and you get to fall in love with the character right away, as she’s just so charming and witty. The show offers something for everyone, and there’s a really funny comment at the end of the show when her son gets into the University of York, and he says he didn’t want to go to Oxford or Cambridge because it’d be too posh – so although the play is rooted in the identity of Scarborough as a place, with lots of references to the local landscape, the play doesn’t refrain from bringing itself into the wider national identity as well.

TCS: Why did you choose Christopher York’s play to be SandCastle Theatre’s professional debut?

Georgie: The reason I first got into directing at Cambridge was because there weren’t any shows on that voiced my identity as a Northern girl, and that’s always been something I’ve been passionate about: most of the shows I’ve put on have sought to champion that. Chris lives in Scarborough, about half an hour away from me, and so in order to put on the show I got in touch with him and he very kindly allowed us to put it on without paying for the rights, so he’s been a huge support throughout. I suppose it’s been scary putting on a show that’s only had one professional run, something quite new, but I hope he comes to watch the show even though it’s scary knowing I have control of his show that’s only ever been done once before. We also wanted to do something with a close-knit group of our pals, and Harriet has played a lot of parts in the shows we’ve done before, and she’s an incredible actress. It’s been amazing to be able to work with her in a one-on-one setting, because throughout directing past shows I’ve always found I’ve most enjoyed directing monologues or working with actors one-on-one, so the play just fitted perfectly. Finding a show that speaks about things that are so close to my hometown and allows me to bring it to Cambridge is a great feeling! One of my hopes in the future is to take plays that aren’t specifically set in the North but to set them there, because often doing shows like this can be misconstrued as stereotypical: it’s always annoyed me when I go to the ADC and the Northern character tends to be just the jokey one in a drawing room drama type of production. Why can’t Hedda Gabler be from Liverpool and have a Scouse accent?

TCS: What about Build a Rocket makes it resonate with today – why is it important in today’s world?

Georgie: Within the media today, I think young single mothers are still vilified and demonised, and what’s so amazing about this show is that it completely flips this depiction. The show is a salute to the immense struggle that single mothers face, and being able to see this set in Scarborough and staged in Cambridge is so special to me – it’s exciting to be able to give Scarborough more visibility on a national scale! The title itself, ‘Build a Rocket’, actually comes from an Elbow lyric from the song ‘Lippy Kids’, and it’s all about building something out of nothing in the face of adversity. The show’s central idea, that it gradually hints at and reveals, is that the show is about her writing the show, and so there is something poetic in her building an amazing life for her son Jack, building her identity and building an incredible piece of writing. I think this is what’s so special about the show and how it flips the typical narrative – there is a maternal sacrifice, but out of this Yasmin and Jack grow together.

The winner of High Tide’s first commissions award and the Sunday Mail’s Best Female Solo Show, ‘Build a Rocket’ is an unmissable piece of theatre, coming to the Town and Gown Theatre from 19th-22nd July at 7:30pm. Tickets can be purchased from https://www.designmynight.com/cambridge/whats-on/theatrearts/build-a-rocket.