[2014083] The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean

[2014083] The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean

Shona Reppe @ Odeon Theatre

1:30pm, Wed 5 Mar 2014

When you’ve got something like Roman Tragedies in the programme, the rest of the shows in the Theatre category can look a little… well, underwhelming. But faith in David Sefton – and the opportunity to squeeze in a matinée – drags me out to the Odeon, where I leech some free Wi-Fi and chat with Jane after I mis-judge my travel times.

Thankfully for a show ostensibly targeted at children, there’s a healthy percentage of youngsters in the otherwise light audience for this performance; we’re ever-so-gently encouraged to crowd the front couple of rows to generate a bit of atmosphere. Onstage is an elaborate frame of possibilities: small objects in plastic bags hang around the aluminium frame that reminds me of a puppet theatre, with a table in the middle angled so as to present objects on the surface to the audience.

Shona Reppe purposefully strides on stage, appearing every bit the focused scientist in her white lab coat; she announces herself as a doctor of Scrapology, working for SCRAPS: the Society for the Care, Repair and Analytical Probing of Scrapbooks. As the name entails, she gently explains to the children (or, as she adorably calls them, “Scrapettes”) in the audience, this involves her analysing the contents of scrapbooks to unlock the clues to their stories.

This investigation’s scrapbook is introduced as Reppe dramatically blows off a layer of dust; she then plays rustic CSI on the book, investigating it with magnifying glasses and tweezers, occasionally projecting the contents on a video screen. She also presents the book to the audience in a very story-time reading style, but rarely talks down to us as she discovers the story of Artemis, a lonely man who (eventually) meets and falls in love with the mysterious Josephine Bean… but whilst photographic evidence of Artemis is found, Josephine is notable by her absence.

Yes, it’s pitched at a younger audience, and yes, the performance occasionally drifts towards the twee; but Reppe is utterly charming in her role, not to mention convincing: the scenes that involve her stretching out paths for Josephine Bean to follow were wonderful. The direction of the play – though perhaps not best suited for a wide space like the Odeon – is imaginative, with great use of video overlays and shadow play to trigger the audience’s imaginations.

Whilst The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean wasn’t the most compelling theatre to be shown as part of the Festival, it was totally worth the effort to squeeze it in. It’s carried by Shona Reppe’s charming (and direct) performance, but I suspect the real art of the piece lies in the sparks of imagination that the audience carry with them once the show is over.

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