The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean

31 Oct 2011 in Dance & Drama

Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, 29 October 2011, and touring

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.

The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean

The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean

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.

©  Mark Fisher, 2011