Reviews: The Curious Scrapbook Of Josephine Bean & Kin

Theatre

The Curious Scrapbook Of Josephine Bean
Seen at Platform, Easterhouse, Glasgow; touring until November 26

Kin
Seen at Cumbernauld Theatre; at Traverse, Edinburgh, November 10-12, and Eden Court, Inverness, November 15

Reviewed by Mark Brown

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 Artemus 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 Artemus’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 Artemus’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.
   From the wonder of childhood to one of the most profound subjects of adulthood. Donna Rutherford’s Kin is a contemplation, in live performance and film, of the shifting relations between middle-aged children and their ageing parents. Rutherford, who is in her early forties, has filmed interviews with a group of middle-aged friends (including Claire Marshall and Cathy Naden, of acclaimed theatre company Forced Entertainment; and leading actor and theatre director Alison Peebles) who talk – with candour, humour and emotion – about their relations with their elderly parents.
   In a particularly moving moment, Peebles imagines a letter to her mother, Marian Maisie (who has since died, aged 91, in July of this year; and to whom the production is dedicated). Appearing on the three television screens which (alongside little tables at which Rutherford makes, by turns, coffee, tea and cocoa) make up the set, the actress, who has Multiple Sclerosis, speaks, regretfully, of how she cannot assist her mother physically, or move into her house, which has stairs.
   If Kin is sometimes deeply affecting, it is also, in moments, flagrantly obvious; although, it is interesting to note how, when faced with such an emotive subject, intelligent and sensitive people will seek refuge in clichés and platitudes. In truth, the quasi-poetic comments and fragments of songs performed by Rutherford never really convince one that she truly is a “conduit” between our own lives and the filmed material. One is left asking whether her live presence is actually necessary.
   Then comes the realisation. One would be more sceptical of Kin if it were a worthy TV documentary about middle-aged people and their parents, or a modish film installation in an art gallery. Whilst the films are the most interesting element in the piece, we require Rutherford’s presence, because we, somehow, need this subject to have the immediacy of live performance.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 6, 2011

© Mark Brown

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