For our next Faces Meet... we spoke to playwright, Chris York, about his new (recently published!) play, Build A Rocket. It was such a pleasure to talk to Chris, and to hear about the reasons behind his play, it's themes of maternity and the role privilege plays in a child's success.
What drove you to write Build A Rocket?
There was a documentary presented by David Harewood "Will Britain Ever Have A Black Prime Minister?". The programme looked at the obstacles that face predominantly working class children comparative with children of financial privilege. Our leaders aren't educated in state schools, they are given opportunities from cradle to No.10.
The thesis of the play was to see what qualities the mother of a child, with severe social obstacles in their path, would have to have in order to raise someone amazing. My hometown, Scarborough, has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country. I am a product of that working class, accidental baby, society. With 'Build A Rocket' it made sense to start at home.
What are the main themes of the play, and why are they important to you and your audience?
This is a play about maternity. My early years were spent in a bedsit, I grew up in a cramped flat with my three little brothers but I think my mum smashed it when it came to motherhood. And 'Build A Rocket' is an exploration of what qualities and superpowers a single mother in a working class town would need to bring up a child that could potentially become a future Prime Minister, Doctor or Astronaut.
But I also wanted to focus on that transition from teenager to adult. Under the wrong circumstances, people can fall into the trap of going from young adult into old child. Again, I believe that can be systemic of one's surroundings, especially if there aren't the jobs, educational opportunities and support systems in place.
I think kitchen sink drama is a really valid way of portraying lower income households and the struggles they face, but I wanted to write something that avoided poverty porn, demonisation or stereotypes but addressed social mobility and class division in a different way. This is my way of writing a superhero story about a single mum from Scarborough.
When I write, I usually write for myself, what do I enjoy or what do I want to discover? With 'Build A Rocket' the audience I always had in mind when writing was the women that helped mould me; whether that be my mum, aunties, grandparents, friends, girlfriends, shopkeepers with a smile and thank you on their face. This play is for the women of Scarborough, no doubt.
There are so many ways to tell stories, tackle issues, explore ideas - why theatre?
Theatre is the best means to have a dialogue with an audience, because they are there - in front of the actor, ready for discourse. I write a lot in soliloquy and I believe it's why Shakespeare is difficult to translate to the screen, there is a slight disconnect, in my opinion at least. For me it's important for the character of Yasmin (Build A Rocket's protagonist) to be able to directly address the audience, share her anxieties, her problems, her challenges directly - so the audience can go on the journey with her. Allegory and story telling is what we're in the business of, and for me, when you can see the beads of sweat on the actors face, and they can respond in kind to your reactions, to something you've said, adapt and do something spontaneous, something real, something they haven't done the night before, you can't beat that stuff. It's mint. Go watch Jurassic Park, it'll be the same as when you saw it last time, I promise, but a really good show will transform and evolve, and in that sense it's the liveness that I'm after.
What was the last show you saw that you think everyone should see?
That's tough, because I work as an actor too, I definitely don't get the chance to go to the theatre as much as I should. I think James Graham's 'Ink' was the las time a play truly grabbed me by the nuts and didn't let go. So if that's ever revived, 'Ink' - otherwise I'd say go see Stewart Lee do anything. I saw him last year in Scarborough, and I thought I'd have to leave because the laughter became genuinely torturous.
What else in the Edinburgh Fringe programme are you excited to see?
Much easier, 'Providence', I saw this at The Vault's this year, by Dominic Allen and Simon Maeder. it's so fucking funny, so dark, really good stuff, I can't wait to see how the show has evolved. I think it's on at The Assembly Rooms, definitely check it out.
Build a Rocket is on at the Pleasance Courtyard from the 1-27th of August at 4.30pm!