There is a tremendous charm to The Curious Scrapbook Of Josephine Bean, the latest show (for children aged six and upwards) from Shona Reppe Puppets. Opening in the laboratory of white-coated “scrapologist” Dr Patricia Baker, it is a lovely and intricate example of the theatre of objects. The good doctor identifies an old, Victorian scrapbook as the property of one Artemis J Mood, a lonely, bearded watch repairer from Edinburgh. She does so by means of a forensic examination of a variety of objects, ranging from photographs, to railway tickets and pieces of seaweed. What unfolds is a gentle detective story, in which theories about Artemis’s unusual life are considered and discounted, before the extraordinary truth (too extraordinary to divulge in a review) is finally revealed. It will come as no surprise to anyone who was fortunate enough to see White (Catherine Wheels Theatre Company’s wonderful show for two to four-year-olds which was designed by Reppe) that the exploration of the scrapbook is attended by the most brilliant design and sound. Dr Baker uses tweezers to transfer delicate little objects from small, transparent plastic bags arranged above her head and into the scrapbook. One object prompts a contemplation of Artemis’s days out, which are evoked by the sounds of horses’ hooves on cobblestones and the music and noisy crowds of a fairground. The doctor’s obsessiveness leads to all manner of humorous contemplations of the smells and tastes of things (cue a cacophony of “eeughs” from a little army of grossed-out schoolchildren from Glasgow’s east end). Reppe has created a highly original, beautifully delicate and thoroughly engaging piece of children’s theatre; although it is one which requires a considerably more intimate space than the large theatre at Platform. And who is Josephine Bean? That remains Reppe’s (very) little secret.
Alan Chadwick STV 03 November 2011
Shona Reppe’sThe Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean is a charming delight Delving back in time into scrapbook’s history makes for enchanting family friendly fare
Not so tall tales: Victorian mystery is inventively brought to book Award-winning children’s theatre practitioner Shona Reppe is at the forefront of puppetry in Scotland, garnering rave reviews internationally for shows such as Olga Volt the Electric Fairy, Cinderella and Potato Needs a Bath. Not to mention having a hand in the highly praised pre-school show, White by Catherine Wheels. In this new show produced by Catherine Wheels, and aimed at 5-8 year olds, she sets out to investigate a Victorian scrapbook, which serves as an aide memoire to reach back into the past. Think scraps (which can be anything, bits of cloth; torn cuttings) as the equivalent of Proust’s madeleines if you like. Here Reppe plays Dr Patricia Baker, a “scrapologist” to trade, and founder of SCRAPS - the Society for the Care, Repair, Analysis and Probing of Scrapbooks. Having made sure she has the attention of all the “scrapettes” in the audience, she then forensically examines the scrapbook laid out on the table in front of her, its contents projected onto the screen beside her, to try and yield up its secret history. Bit by bit, through careful examination of the book’s quirky contents (bits of seaweed; food stains; train ticket stubs; old cuttings and photos; a list of “dangerous things”, including porridge) we learn that the scrapbook belongs to Victorian Edinburgh watchmaker and seaweed collector, Artemis J Mood. And that he had a lady love, Josephine Bean, who he wined, dined and took to visit the seaside and the theatre. Or did he? “ I do love a romance!”, exclaims Dr Baker. But as she begins to double back on herself and the book’s contents, has she been too quick in judging the clues she finds? It’s gripping, inventive stuff. Think CSI meets Sherlock Holmes, Play Away, Mrs Pepperpot (there’s an extra clue Dr Baker doesn’t provide ), and Michael Bentine’s Potty Time. Reppe has charm to burn, engaging, kid-friendly, funny storyteller, actor and puppeteer (although it should be noted no puppets actually feature here). This is theatre of the imagination, where the book’s pop-up nature, advent calendaresque pockets delivering up secrets,, and clever use of video and soundscape help drive the narrative. One that holds the attention throughout to great effect, for both kids and adults alike. MacRobert, University of Stirling, Stirling, Nov 5. Tel: 01786 461081. Then touring. Reviewed Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine.
Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, 29 October 2011 Mark Fisher
WE ALL like to imagine books are full of knowledge, but it is with a degree of scepticism that we regard Dr Patricia Baker when she tells us her job is to work out the stories hidden inside ancient scrapbooks. Surely this self-styled ‘scrapologist’ in her forensic lab coat has little chance of making sense of the sepia photos, newspaper clippings and fading receipts she finds in the dusty old tome sitting centre stage. Even she seems baffled as she turns the first pages to reveal a seemingly random collection of train tickets and seaweed samples. Yet she forges on, looking for clues; taking a stethoscope to images of pendulums and hearing the ticking of clocks; holding a magnifying glass to the tiniest of fragments and seeing what less keen eyes would have missed; even making deductions from an artefact’s taste or smell.
What emerges in this superb children’s show for the over-sevens by Shona Reppe is part-detective story, part-journey into the imagination. Each page of the gloriously inventive scrapbook opens a new world of possibilities. Those possibilities are themselves in a state of flux as the evidence of one page contradicts the clues of the next, forcing her to go backwards and forwards in a continual process of reassessment and revision. Slowly, she figures out the tale of Artemis J Mood, a Victorian watchmaker whose solitary train journeys from Edinburgh to Elie suggest a life of lonely routine. When train tickets for two appear, it seems romance is in the air – enter Josephine Bean – but there are several more twists on the way before the scrapologist’s work is done. In tone and theme, The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean recalls Daniel Kitson’s C90, an equally brilliant monologue which pieced together a romantic story using the evidence of old compilation cassette tapes. In form, it has a puppeteer’s eye for theatrical possibility, disregarding the regular laws of nature in favour of a parallel universe with its own surreal logic. This is a world where heart-shaped sea beans floats across the ocean from the Caribbean to Fife; where a thread of cotton can be a washing line complete with microscopic clothes; and where a scratch-and-sniff stain can evoke the ingredients of a century-old meal. Under the direction of Gill Robertson for Catherine Wheels, Reppe’s storytelling technique constantly shifts, the narrative suggested by shadow play then chip forks then close-up photography, all executed with tremendous technical precision. It’s as stimulating a 50 minutes as you can spend in a theatre, delighting in the joy of discovery, the potential of even the most mundane object to have a transformative magic and the lesson that behind every fantastic story likes a more fantastic one still.
The Stage The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean Published Monday 31 October 2011 at 10:30 by Thom Dibdin
Diving into the past by way of a huge Victorian scrapbook, Shona Reppe has conjured a near-perfect production for those aged seven years and over. Intricate in its creation of an artefact which is forensically examined for clues to its owner and heartfelt in her interpretation of those clues, this is a show to lighten the imagination. Reppe steps out in a white scientist’s coat as Dr Patricia Baker, founder of SCRAPS - the Society for the Care, Repair, Analysis and Probing of Scrapbooks. She is here to probe and analyse a scrapbook new to her, live on stage, with her technological gadgets allowing the audience to see and hear the results as she does. It is a lesson in observation. Every movement helps create her character or serves to unearth an aspect of the scrapbook. As the clues mount up, it turns out to belong to one Artemis J Mood, an Edinburgh watchmaker whose hobby is the collection of seaweed. As the beautifully constructed pages of the book are revealed and examined, to Dr Baker’s delight she uncovers a romance. Artemis had a love, Josephine Bean, who he took with him to the theatre, on trips and to dine. All are relived through sound, reaction and close-up video of the book - the latter pre-recorded and displayed in exact sequence with Reppe’s movements. With the revelation of Josephine, Reppe’s abilities as a puppeteer come into play. Except that this time her puppet is so tiny as to be invisible - as her skill as a performer brings the fantastical to life. A truly wonderful show that will charm parents as much as their children.
Total Theatre Review Joel Gusson 21st August 2012
It is always a delightful experience to watch a show where the line between spectator and performer is tenuous to the point that the audience believes that they are participating in a dialogue, and not watching a theatrical presentation in monologue form. That's what happens in The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean, created and performed by Shona Reppe – we feel really spoken to, and we feel that we are involved with the performer in the creation of the story.
Presented as a lecture by a scientist specialising in the excavation and examination of scrapbooks (the science of 'scrapology') this piece, aimed at older children, has the power to enchant both young and old.
The smartly turned out Patricia Baker (Shona Reppe) is a ‘scrapologist’ investigating an old and faded scrapbook that has been unearthed, with the intention of discovering who it belonged to, and this person’s story. Gradually, with a nicely pitched forensic tone, she discovers that it was in the possession of a Victorian gentleman named Artemis J Mood, the presumed owner of the scrapbook, who, it emerges, seems to have had a secret romance with a lady called Josephine Bean. Thereafter a full ‘forensic’ investigation takes place, and the very curious life and love of these characters is, little by little, unravelled. To reveal too much would be to spoil the show, as the manner in which the secrets hidden in the scrapbook unfold is truly magical.
The stage is set up with the scrapologist’s work-station, from which hang all sorts of interesting objects, along with an OHP, two screens and a projector. A renowned puppeteer, Shona surprises us with a play without puppets which is, nevertheless, ‘puppetesque’, using the skills that one would expect from an experienced puppeteer in her handling of the objects around her workstation and the artefacts that emerge from the scrapbook (photographs of Artemis which turn out to show something unexpected when re-examined; train tickets that turn into a little train chugging across the screen; feathers, seeds, and seaweeds that have their own tales to tell). The story unfolds very cleverly, with sudden moments of awareness dawning about something that occurred earlier. It's as if she worked on the intangible to whet our imaginations so that we, along with the performer, build the story of Artemis and Josephine’s relationship.
Care and attention has been given to every detail in the show – the text, the scenery, the objects, the film, the music and everything else that contributes to create this charming and intimate atmosphere. As a counterpoint we have the character of Patricia Baker, a friendly scientist who can become extremely authoritarian from one minute to another. This interesting and very real character contributes greatly to the sense that we are not being patronised by the performer, a very common hazard in theatre for children.
A truly sensory and thought-provoking piece – a great piece of children’s theatre that is not just for children.
Edinburgh Spotlight ***** Aug 2012
This show is, quite simply, wonderful. It’s the brainchild of writer and performer Shona Reppe, who greets us in the character of Patricia Baker, a doctor of ‘scrapology’ – in other words, she studies other people’s scrapbooks and uncovers the stories behind them. She’s a marvellous, fascinating creation – eccentric, romantic, clever, and full of child-like innocence and passion for her subject. Shona Reppe fills her with a multitude of beautiful idiosyncrasies, such as her ability to identify the geographical origin of sand by its taste. She’s entirely likeable, engaging the audience with wide-eyed enthusiasm and a sense of humour which is by turns witty and silly (we loved being addressed as ‘scrapettes’). The performance begins as a kind of informal lecture, but quickly develops into a journey to explore the story behind the owner of the latest scrapbook to enter her laboratory – a Victorian gentleman named Artemus J Mood.
It’s difficult to say more about the plot without revealing its secrets, and much of what’s enchanting about this play lies in the voyage of discovery each audience-member undertakes. Suffice to say that the doctor brings to life for us two souls as unusual and appealing as herself, and uncovers a story which leaves everyone with a huge smile on their faces and a feeling that they’ve seen some real magic played out before their very eyes.
Technically, the show is flawless, making great use of a variety of media. Evocative lighting and music, and intriguing sound-effects enhance the performance throughout. There’s also a screen which displays magnified images of the objects contained in the scrapbook, making it more accessible to all the audience. The book itself is marvellously magical, yielding sounds and images when touched by the doctor. And there’s some exquisite work later on with a series of cardboard models. The space is open and welcoming, with the audience arranged on low benches which (and this was our only quibble) aren’t very comfortable to sit on for nearly an hour.
The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean has enchantment, quirkiness, humour, mystery, impressive production, and a hugely charismatic and skilful performance at its very big heart. It is something unique and special. You should see it.
Shona Reppe (Puppets) is a limited company registered in Scotland and recognised as a Scottish Charity, Company number 267273. Charity Number SC035750 Registered Office: Catherine Wheels, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, EH21 6AF, Producer/Administrative Support: Louise Gilmour Wills