If the fringe has a competition for ‘the most cool stuff a director can think of and put into a show’, Junk is a shoe-in. Fluorescent dust, water balloons, a shower, songs, dancing, oh-so-much symbolism and use of space. It is packed with add-ons, techniques and things, things everywhere. Yet whilst this might usually turn me into snootiest of young-fogey reviewers, I actually enjoyed this peacock display of directorial flare.
And this is why: because, generally, it enhanced the text. Melvin Burgess’ novel for young adults, of which this play is an adaptation, is a dark story about teen runaways and their descent into heroin addiction. Its subjects are difficult and unpleasant. This young cast don’t quite have the experience to carry this material on their own performances; a realist adaptation would never have worked. Allowing a symbolic architecture - if, at times, rather a crude one - to support it onstage allows themes to be explored in a way that avoids the suggestion these young artists have appropriated material as if were their own. The conceptual wiring involved in witnessing the presentation of addiction (not to mention prostitution, abortion...) means that if you can’t believe that these people have really experience these things, you can’t trust them. Director and adapter Matt Bulmer is smart for tackling this problem by avoiding realistic exchanges in favour of symbolic gesture.
The use of water is the most intriguing of these symbols. Administering a dose of heroin becomes a quasi-religious ceremony, with addicts anointing each other in transcendent ritual. There is the interesting hint towards cleanliness or ‘being clean’ and its paradoxical status as desired object and enemy in the addict’s mind.
However, occasionally these rituals were too prolonged or not transporting enough to be convincing. The use of narration also undermined some of the action; there was a sense that we should be watching these things happen rather than hear about them - but this is always the danger when adapting from prose. This is a stimulating and energetic production with some bold, intelligent creative decisions worthy of the original text.