Curiouser and Curiouser

April 4, 2017 | By | Reply More

Shona Reppe talks of a tiny marvel

There is something quite unique about the work of Shona Reppe, who is bringing her clever and particular show, The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean to the Scottish Storytelling Centre this week.

A performer and creator of theatre for children, and designer of the most intricate of sets, Reppe has an eye for the off-beat. You might say “bizarre” or “quirky”, but that would fail to acknowledge the fascinating combination of humour and disruption she has in her work.

Shona Reppe on the set of Black Beauty which she designed. Photo: Thom Dibdin

But fascinating is exactly the right word to describe the work she creates – whether it is theatre for children such as her puppet Cinderella (complete with fierce glove Ugly Sisters) or her design for the version of Black Beauty which was at the Traverse last December.

Watching her perform Cinderella to a packed audience of children is a delight in itself. The magic sparkle that comes off the stage as she manipulates those Ugly gloves brings the children under her spell, released with cheers when the Uglies get their just deserts.

A personal tour of the set which she designed for Black Beauty reveals the true level of her intricacies. The show uses the story of the McCuddy Brothers and their pantomime horse to tell Black Beauty’s story. On the walls of the horse box which they call home are hilariously manipulated posters and photos with the horse brought into the frame.

She designed Andy Manley’s White, too, for Catherine Wheels. There are visual puns all over that show – towelling toilet pedestal mats used as aprons. Toothbrushes and other household objects used in unusual ways. All adding to the texture of the production, but also providing a wry grin for adults and recognisable elements for children.

the kitsch and the miniature

Every show has its different angle, its new level of incorporating her love for the kitsch and the miniature. But the ultimate Shona Reppe show, in many ways, is her 2011 production, The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean, suitable for children over seven, or so, which she has revived, is on tour and arriving in the Netherbow this very week.

Shona Reppe – The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean. Photo: Eoin Carey

In it, she becomes 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.

The story of that probing and revelation is beautifully told, the reveals constructed with strict attention to detail. Reppe’s every movement helps create her character or serves to unearth an aspect of the scrapbook.

It’s no real surprise to learn that Reppe watched a lot of CSI before making the show. “I was obsessed by crime novels and how to lay down a series of clues and not give too much away but keep the interest,” she revealed in an exclusive interview with Æ ahead of her appearance at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

“I enjoyed mapping out the twists and turns of how to reveal certain secrets, [director] Gill Robertson was brilliant at helping stage these discoveries and with the soundscape of Danny Krass and animation and video of Jonathan Charles it all came together.”

The Ugly Sisters in Cinderella. Photo: Douglas McBride

As those clues mount up, it turns out that the scrapbook belonged to one Artemis J Mood, an Edinburgh watchmaker whose hobby was the collection of seaweed. The scrapbook itself is a work of art, worthy of any watchmaker: detailed and finessed to provide both charm and a sparkle of illusion.

“I spent ages making the scrapbook,” Reppe says, “and filled the pages as each scene was devised – it had to look authentic!”

It certainly does, and as the pages are turned a new story is revealed beyond the collection of seaweed when Atemes discovers a sea bean while out searching on the seashore one day.

magical stories

It would be wrong to reveal too much more, beyond Reppe’s own gentle hints as to where the story might go: “Josephine was created after staring for hours out of my studio window on the top floor of my house and looking at the Firth of Forth.

“It was inspired by Selkie stories and the magical stories of the sea bean which Christopher Columbus kept as a symbol of good luck.”

So now Josephine Bean is off on her travels again. She’s been away before, having spent three award-winning weeks at the fringe in 2012, she went of to Australia for a while and has been to the Barbican in London. But now she is off on a jaunt around Scotland.

And if The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean fills the stage with its story, its reality on tour is in strict keeping with Reppe’s love of the miniature.

“The show packs up quite small, and still fits in the back of our car,” she says. “We have to crowbar the children in these days. And the dog. But we manage!”

Listings

The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean (ages 7+)
Netherbow Theatre, 43-45 High Street, EH1 1SR
Box Office: 0131 556 9579
Thursday 6 – Saturday 8 April.
Daily: 2pm; Saturday matinee: 11am.

The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean on tour:
6 – 8 April 2017 Edinburgh
Scottish Storytelling Centre
0131 556 9579 Book online
a 12 April 2017 Giffnock
Eastwood Park Theatre
0141 577 4956 Book online
a 16 April 2017 Hawick
Heart of Hawick
01450 360688 Book online

The McCuddy’s pantomime horse and famous friend. Detail from the set of Black Beauty. Photo: Thom Dibdin

ENDS

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