Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together and welcome to the stage Dr B and the Scrapettes. Sounds like a seventies soul band, doesn’t it? But you couldn’t be further from the truth. For the Doc in question is none other than “scrapologist” Patricia Baker whose crumpled lab coat, forensic detective work and penchant for a dry one-liner suggests she may be the secret love-child of Quincy and Columbo. And Scrapettes refers to the audience, all of whom were comfortably above the 7+ target age group when I attended the second of two performances at Eastwood Park Theatre; all of whom left with a smile the size of the Forth Bridge.
For The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean, which earned writer and performer Shona Reppe the Theatre UK (TMA) Award for Best Children’s Theatre Show in 2012, is charming and delightful, funny and engaging, heart-warming and nigh-on perfect. And don’t let the scientific setting or medical salutation put you off, for underneath her white lab coat lies a red turtleneck top, knee-length baggy trousers with a black and white check, and a pair of golden trainers to match her Pixie blonde hair which suggests fun and mischief. Both of which are in abundance during the 50 minutes of sheer joy which follows.
So who is Dr B and what is “scrapology”? To use one of her favourite phrases: it’ll all become clear in the end. Presented with a Victorian scrapbook with missing pieces which contains an array of peculiar artefacts such as a heart-shaped bean, a miniature umbrella and a length of string attached to a match, Dr B sees an opportunity where others see a problem. With spy glass, tweezers and electronic listening device in hand, she leafs through the dusty book one page at a time and draws upon her five heightened senses to try and solve the mystery behind who it belongs to and what the strange objects mean.
A whiff of pipe smoke? A man. Initials on a business card which correspond to a signature at the bottom of a letter? The Edinburgh watchmaker Artemis J. Mood. Single train tickets and a grain of sand (sniff sniff, Elie on the east coast)? A shy bachelor who enjoys long walks by the sea. Job done, thinks Dr B. Until she stumbles across the smell of lavender, a romantic meal for two and tickets for the ballet. The rest, as the title suggests, is curious. But wonderfully so. And towards the end, when all the pieces of the puzzle fall neatly into place, genuinely moving.
Shona Reppe, who designed the Traverse and Red Bridge’s recent co-production of Black Beauty as well as Catherine Wheel’s award-winning children’s show White, has created a gem. Her writing like her performance style is warm and witty and deceptively simple; she employs a myriad or theatrical genres including puppetry, mime and animation with great versatility and grace; and, when need be, has the confidence and experience to turn down the volume and draw the audience in through silence. Hence the Theatre UK Award. If you want to be a Scrapette, get yourself down to the Tower Mill Theatre in the Heart of Hawick on 16 April when Dr Baker’s short Scottish tour draws to a close.
Video courtesy of: Catherine Wheels TC