An award-winning one-woman show written by Christopher York, directed by Paul Robinson, and performed by the incredible Serena Manteghi, Build a Rocket follows the story of bubbly Yasmin—a young girl in Scarsborough whose life is transformed when she becomes pregnant at sixteen. York’s script tackles the challenging topics of poverty and privilege without reducing its heroine to a stereotype or her story to a tragedy. Its humour and levels of emotion achieve a nuanced performance that is both watchable and edifying.
Manteghi as Yasmin bursts with energy and is immediately likeable as she bounds around the stage, a brassy teenager brushing off her GCSEs in favour of lavishing the attention she finds in the arms of an older man. Yasmin’s coming of age sees her loss of innocence in more ways than one. Abandoned by her alcoholic mother, her friends, and her former lover, and saddled with debt and responsibilities a sixteen-year-old should never have to deal with, we watch as her character matures into a loving mother—still struggling, but steadfastly pressing on in constant efforts to better life for her precocious son.
It is a testament to both Manteghi’s performance and York’s script that in spite of its performer’s solo status, the audience gets a good sense not only of Yasmin’s character, but also the secondary characters within her story: her deadbeat mother, lascivious landlord, on-again-off-again lover, and most of all, her beloved son, Jack. Yasmin and Jack’s relationship is endearing and genuine from his birth. A viewer would be hard-pressed not to laugh and cry along with his mother as he grows and matures throughout the production, and he is as tangible a presence onstage as Yasmin is.
The saga is perfectly highlighted by effective lighting design by Ben Cowens and compositions by Simon Slater. Loud and effusive when havoc is being wreaked, and soft and poignant during the play’s tender moments, these features achieve the mood of the production and match the energy and wit that define it.
Often, solo performances run the risk of tedious length and dry sameness making them inaccessible to a wider audience. Build a Rocket shatters any preconceived notions one might hold for the genre, offering a layered emotional experience that could be accessible to a wider audience. The tangible sincerity within the production makes it worth seeing for any young theatregoer.