SCOTTISH PUPPETEER and ‘object-theatre’ artist Shona Reppe makes her fifth visit to Baboró with a show that promises to be a festival highlight, The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean.
Based in Fife, where she lives with her husband and two young daughters, Shona has produced award-winning work that has toured across the world. She initially studied theatre and art history at Glasgow University followed by a post-grad in stage design at the Welsh College of Drama. In 1994 she attended The London School of Puppetry Summer School and established Shona Reppe Puppets in 1996, debuting that year with The Elves and The Shoemaker. Among the shows she has produced are The Little Red Hen (1998 ), Tom Thumb (2000 ), and Cinderella (2002 ) which won a Total Theatre Award. Subsequent shows have included Spend a Penny, which won the Tron award for best children’s production, The Ugly Duckling, and Olga Volt the Electric Fairy, which also toured extensively, and Potato Needs a Bath.
Which brings us to The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean, which Shona created and designed as well as performs. Premiering in 2011, the following year it featured at The Edinburgh Fringe where it was nominated for a Total Theatre Award before winning a TMA (Theatre UK ) Award for best children’s theatre show.
Ahead of its visit to Baboró, Shona took some time to talk about her work and Josephine Bean.
While much of her work has been presented under the banner of Shona Reppe Puppets, she begins by stating that puppetry is not really her defining artistic category.
“I haven’t really trained as a puppeteer,” she states. “The course I did in London was a three week summer school, it was basically a taster of what I could do in puppetry and it got me quite excited about it but I come to this as a designer which is where my real training is.
“It’s all about making and creating which is extended into making and creating a role for myself and working with things I’ve made, so that’s more the background for me than as an out and out puppeteer. I’m into things, objects, environments, textures, not just puppetry, the shows are about more than that. It’s about creating a world that I then step into. Design is very important but with that comes writing and devising, it’s all integrated for me.”
Moving on to talk about Josephine Bean and, despite her name featuring in the title, Shona can reveal nothing about her eponymous heroine for fear of giving the show away. “It’s a bad show to publicise,” she says with a hearty laugh. “If I tell you about her you’ll think ‘Oh I’d like to see that!’ but if I tell you it would also spoil it for you!”
What about the character Shona herself plays in the show?
“I play Patricia Baker who is a scrapologist and it’s her job to discover the story within the scrapbook,” she replies. “It’s not only a scrap book but a collection of objects that a person who we don’t know has accumulated in an order that was chronological. Patricia has to be a detective and find the story within and understand the clues and that’s what the basis of the show is and it’s through doing that that Patricia Baker discovers Josephine Bean.”
The scrap-book which forms the centrepiece of the show brings the audience back to an earlier time though when we encounter Patricia in the present day.
“Patricia’s absolutely a modern day character,” Shona notes. “I like to think that she used to be a beautician, something normal, but she has this fascination for delving into clues and that’s what I enjoy about the show. The scrapbook becomes a portal and we do a bit of time travel in it, that’s the idea – and not just to talk about as in ‘Oh this is Victorian’ or whatever, but to actually feel it and understand the character that came from that time. It looks like Patricia Baker has created her own laboratory and she has this strange message to decipher from the clues so that’s part of the fun.”
I ask whether Shona uses her own daughters as test audiences.
“I do, but I don’t force them to watch my shows over and over again,” she replies with another laugh. “I watch them in their everyday play and I know what fascinates them and I think by osmosis that comes through in my shows definitely.
“Josephine Bean is aimed at kids aged seven plus, it wouldn’t suit tiny kids because of its pace and subject matter. My eldest girl is eight and when I was making the show she was about the right age and that kept me true.”
Given she is a frequent visitor to Baboró, it comes as no surprise to hear Shona is an ardent fan of the festival. “I absolutely love it,” she enthuses. “Whenever Lali Morris asked me to come I’d always say ‘Yes!’ straight away. I love Baboró, I like what it stands for and Galway is fabulous, I always adore to be there so it’s a no-brainer for me coming here!”
The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean runs at An Taibhdhearc from Thursday October 16 to Sunday 19. The Thursday and Friday shows are at 9.45am and 12 noon while the Saturday and Sunday shows are at 2.30pm and 6pm.
Shona will also take part in a public interview about her work at Áras Na Gael on Thursday October 16 at 7pm.
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie