Josephine is a little different. Reserved and shy, she finds it difficult to relate to others, except her favourite person in the world – her Aunt Caroline. Every Sunday they listen and dance to jazz, sing and act out stories from their favourite books. It is Josephine’s favourite time with her favourite person.
But, following the sudden death of her Aunt, heartbroken Josephine, retreats to the confines of the vents in their apartment block. Here she finds comfort in the solitude, until she meets William, a boy also lost in his own trials. William plays violin and Josie sings – and a friendship blossoms. That is until the day William goes missing. So starts a fantastical journey of discovery for a young girl lost.
Billed as a whirlwind adventure for kids and the young at heart, the team at Second Chance Theatre negotiate the deceptively difficult world of family entertainment to bring us a delightful story for Summer Nights @ Fringe World.
Writer / director Scott McArdle explains that Josephine! is about the strength of kids coping with childhood trials and traumas of which we rarely give them credit for. Exploring themes of grief, bullying, making choices and being ‘different’, McArdle’s writing is refreshingly without pretention or lecture, so often lacking in performance writing for young people. His direction is precise and unwavering in purpose and there isn’t a moment of uncertainty. Along with the beautifully composed score by Music Director Georgina Cramond, the two have achieved something that is harmonious in its interpretation and delivery.
There is also a clear collaborative vision between McArdle and designer Clare Testoni. And that vision is youthful simplicity. Each clever design, costume and staging element is skilfully conceived. Elements of yellow, orange and blue costume the actors, cardboard cut-out hats for queens and pirates and simple netting for transparent ghosts appear as if straight from a child’s craft box. A wooden ladder becomes the vent, lighthouse, a tower and coloured festoon bulbs transforms it into a ferris wheel. An office chair with attached joystick, adorned with plastic umbrella ‘sword’ becomes a toaster powered bathtub whisking Josephine away on her many adventures.
But it is the superb projected illustrations that lift the already lovely design. Each illustration serves a purpose. Be it to introduce additional characters, an eccentric German inventor living upstairs, an old man who’s highlight of the day is choosing his socks, an opera singer to name a few; or to add visual reference to Josephine’s many adventures – a pirate island, a haunted show ground or flying 15,000 feet in the air. Each illustration is water colour like adhering to the youthful design concept.
McArdle has assembled an outstanding cast. Each performer is superb, steering well away from outrageous characterisations. Rhianna Hall, Jo Morris, Tristan McInnes and Nick Maclaine are a very tight and generous ensemble; no one outshines the other.
As Josephine, not only does Rhianna Hall look the part, but her journey from naivety to a young lady finding her purpose is believable and so charming to watch. Her scene with Amelia Earhart is especially lovely. Tristan McInnes as the agonisingly innocent William is perfect and contrasts his wise cracking pirate – a perfectly timed hilarious romp.
Narrators Jo Morris and Nick Maclaine pitch the storytelling at just the right level. Their multiple characterisations, from apartment dwellers to pirates, ghosts or heroines are all equally outstanding. Morris’s Earhart is memorably strong, while Maclaine’s love forlorn ghost, particularly moving.
This really is first class family entertainment – it is endearing, whimsical and captivating. I laughed, I learnt and I believed! And I left that theatre with a great big dose of the feel goods!
Congratulations Team Second Chance!
Josephine! runs through until Saturday 17 February.
The Studio – The Blue Room @ 6pm