In the first few moments of this performance there was some uneasy laughter, as if to ask “will Shona Reppe rely too much on the participation of the children in the audience?” Minutes later, it’s clear the performer, creator and designer of The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean, Shona Reppe, is very much in control of the show’s content. What she has created is a delightful masterpiece of children’s theatre.
Reppe plays Dr Patricia Baker, a ‘scrapologist’, who takes the audience on a journey of discovery to decipher the life story behind the previous owner of a Victorian-era scrapbook. The strikingly original love story that unfolds is both intricate and simple, making it engaging for every audience member, no matter what their age.
It isn’t just the story, but also the unique way it’s presented through a combination of acting, multimedia, and puppetry, that makes Shona Reppe’s characters so charming. Small objects in the scrapbook appear in digital form through the use of film (Jonathan Charles), which allows the audience to feel as though they are closely involved in the unravelling mystery.
The set takes up only a small portion of the stage, but the action is anything but static. Reppe spends much of the performance moving around and making use of the multitude of props. A dusty scrapbook, aromatic dinners for two, a smooth sea bean, and many more generate a highly sensory experience. Along with the enchanting sound composition (Danny Krass) and colourful costume design (Alison Brown), the audience is transported to the wild world of the scrapologist.
Not a movement, word, or moment is wasted in this cleverly crafted performance. There is clear evidence of careful direction (Gill Robertson) to coordinate the many technical elements. There is so much whimsy, from a feather dancing the ballet under a spotlight, to the wonderfully baffling end sequence, and yet nothing is without purpose or intent.
The world could use more performances like Shona Reppe’s exquisite The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean; this is an example of children’s theatre at its best. There are a few sideways laughs for the adults, endlessly impressive visual effects, and more than enough magic and mystery in to delight and amaze the youngest audience members.