Review by Cicely Binford
If there’s one thing I look forward to at every Summer Nights, it’s the kids’ show(s). I’m always thrilled by how independent theatre-makers find ways to speak to younger audiences, while still making shows palatable for and cherished by adults as well. There’s always a level of joy and directness that is refreshing to the often very rich Fringe diet; there’s a freedom to play and imagine that’s sometimes missing in adult shows.
This year, Second Chance Theatre are offering a new work to fit into that family niche, called Josephine! Josephine (Rhianna Hall) is a young girl who has trouble communicating with others, and prefers the company of her aunt (Jo Morris) to anybody else. They’re a happy family of two until her aunt suddenly passes away, and Josephine is left all alone in her apartment building with no one to look after her.
She crawls up into the vents, and while exploring the building, she comes across a young boy named William (Tristan McInnes) crying in his room. They strike up a timid but fast friendship, until one day William comes home with his treasured violin broken. He’s told the other kids about Josephine, the girl who lives in the vents, but they don’t believe him. William asks Josephine to come to school to prove to them that she’s real, but she refuses, and William calls her a bad friend. After that, he seemingly disappears, and Josephine sets out to find him.
She goes to all sorts of wonderful and mysterious places, meets pirates, ghosts, circus people, and a very famous female pilot. Throughout her adventures, she learns more about herself and her strengths, about others and their weaknesses, and hears wondrous tales that almost keep her from completing her mission to find her dear friend William.
With the likes of Jo Morris, Nick Maclaine and Tristan McInnes on board to populate this tale with kooky, larger-than-life characters, writer/director Scott McArdle could hardly go wrong. Morris’s capricious Pirate Queen is a lovable villain, Maclaine’s flighty, foggy ghost could be the silliest and most fun character you’ve ever seen him play, and McInnes’s (North?)-American William is surprisingly nuanced and sweet. Rhianna Hall gives a lovely, sweet performance as the young, nervous Josephine.
The story does need some trimming though, and possibly a reconsidering of the number of themes the show touches on – there’s a lot of teaching moments throughout, which are great and important, but they take us off track from the main story. Is this a story of a young girl who goes from having stuff happen to her to finding agency, or is it a story about friendship, or a story about taking the first step, or a story about the stories that live inside us all? If McArdle were to focus down to one main through-line and then perhaps a secondary, complementary one, Josephine! would no doubt achieve maximum impact.
As far as technical achievements, the team manages to do so much with just a few smart choices and a few pairs of good eyes and ears: Clare Testoni’s design is cohesive, with a pleasing yellow/blue/apricot colour palette and tactical stripes in the costumes, and a fair bit of helpful illustrations projected onto the back wall. Georgina Cramond stands at a keyboard at the back corner, quiet as a mouse, providing live accompaniment to the action.
As an adult, I was taken on a fun ride, and I wish I had taken a few youngsters on the ride with me, as I’m sure they would have had as much fun as I did.
Josephine! runs nightly at 6pm ( 11 & 12 Feb excepted) until 17 Feb at The Blue Room Theatre as part of their Summer Nights program for FRINGE WORLD. For tickets and more information, visit the event page here.