After successful runs of a show at Edinburgh Fringe and Brits on Broadway in New York, Bucket Club Theatre Company recently came to the New Diorama Theatre bringing bac ktheir hit show Fossils. The play follows scientist Vanessa (played by Helen Vinten) on her personal research project around the myth of the Loch Ness Monster. Combining innovative sound design and playful aesthetics the company delivers a rounded, wholesome account of personal struggle and (pseudo)scientific phenomena. Also fairly simple in plot and staging the show is carefully crafted for a wholesome, piece intertwined with some important issues such a women in science and work pressure.

The performers were a likable, complementary trio of Adam Farrell, Luke Murphy and Helen Vinten who delivered a mix of light humour and truthful vulnerability. The plot centres around Vanessa and her personal history, or rather lack of it, though there are some subtle socio-political comments woven in through odd lines. The introductory narration contrasting the work ethic of Vanessa with her male counterparts and the obstacles she has overcome was cleverly written (by Ned Crouch with the company) to set this up a wider conversation around women in science. This conversation played more as an undertone rather than the focus of the piece. I am unsure whether this was a deliberate choice of the company, but the inclusion of this topic is welcome on a theatre stage.

This is an issue relevant to an on-going discussion with movements such as “#womeninscience”, the uprising of female science bloggers[1] and responses to Tim Hunt’s speech on “the problems with women in science”, which he stated was that men and women would just fall in love in the lab and that “women cry when their work is criticised. For the good of science, he suggested, labs might be sexually segregated”.[2] Fossils may not have gone into enough depth to probe these enduring misogynistic attitudes, but it did ask some interesting questions and if the show was to be expanded or extended it would be interesting to interweave this a little more.

The plot itself is fairly linear and simple but the intrigue is sustained via the steady unveiling of information, resisted by the protagonist who hides much of her emotional turmoil; which is only alluded to and eventually explained via narrators and interactions with other characters, all performed via effective vocal multirolling, with physicalisation (surprisingly creatively) via toy dinosaurs. Fossils was not the most emotionally charged piece but it did supply interesting, largely unexpected plot twists that provided a certain affecting energy around the revelations of Vanessa’s early life.

The frame of scientific fact and analysis provided a stimulating backdrop for Fossils and heightened the more artistic moments. For example, complex scientific terminology was overplayed with stylised movement sequences, which complimented each other to create a textured engagement for the audience. To my, admittedly scientifically untrained, eye this combination felt legitimate, grounded and translated as a fully realised intricate scientific sphere within which the emotional plot rested.

Props and technical elements were also used to visualise the scientific concepts and make them accessible. Overall, the set and production was creatively cohesive and provided from some satisfying reveals later in the show. There was a joyful use of childhood toys, mixed with scientific equipment which reinforced the plot points and worked to deepen our empathy with Vanessa as this the juxtaposition of these two fragments, science and her childhood, spilled out over the stage and represented the turmoil she was trying to hide.

However, it was the sound design of the show, which elevated it to a different sphere. It can be seen (or heard) that sound design is a current and quickly evolving field by gesturing to recent productions such as Complicité’s The Encounter, which provided headphones and used a binaural microphone, and The Shape of the Pain at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, which aimed to articulate chronic pain through sound and visuals in an incredibly successful visceral experience (you can read culturised’s thoughts about the play here). Bucket Club’s use of live sound speaks to this and is an important focus of the show, providing another way to engage in the tale of fact and fiction. The original music by David Ridley, who was also the overall sound designer for the show, helped the piece to stay fresh and the contrast of electronic and synthetic sound with moments of authentic, instrumental performances, (largely from Luke Murphy) created pleasant and interesting nuances, such as elevating Vanessa’s trip to Scotland to an emotional apex of the play which otherwise may have been lost and a more pedestrian moment.

There are many shows of this style around, especially in the wake of the Fringe, characterised by direct audience address, quirky sharp scene transitions, movement based moments and multifunctional props and set but Bucket Club did manage to combine these in a way that feels fresh and exciting by using them in dialogue with each other in a clearly carefully crafted way and with the incorporation of a skilled sonic backdrop the piece shifted into its own brand and sphere, a multifaceted emotionally driven mode of story telling. Bucket Club are definitely company are definitely one to watch out for.

 

[1] “Stigmatism and sexism in science?”, Essentialvitaminsea 2nd February 2016.

https://essentialvitaminsea.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/stigmatism-and-sexism-in-science/

http://sciencegrrl.co.uk/

http://soapboxscience.org/

[2] Ian Sample, Rebecca Ratcliffe, and Claire Shaw, “The trouble with Tim Hunt’s ‘trouble with girls in science’ comment” 12th June 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jun/12/tim-hunt-trouble-with-girls-in-science-comment