A Fool’s Proof

Reviewer's Rating

Scratchworks is comprised of four Exeter University graduates who are inspired by live music, clowning and physical theatre and who collaborate on all aspects of production, music and devising. A Fool’s Proof  is based on the true story of a young girl who was trapped in a wellshaft for 56 hours.

The thrust of the production is on three journalists working for the Glassock Gazette and chasing the story of the missing girl. Facts are offered regarding her disappearance and assumptions are made about her family background. Research into her life, and the possibility that she may have fallen down the wellshaft are transplanted by the need to sell newspapers. In a critique of tabloid journalism best writing practice is abandoned in favour of sensationalism and speculation. The true story about the missing child is abandoned to the colourful tales that can be construed to boost the newspaper’s circulation.

The scenes switch from a mimed dramatization of the nine year old Penny Wilkes falling down the well to frenetic glimpses of life in the newspaper’s offices. The smoky scenes onstage move between the frightened, hungry, shivering child in the dark (often illuminated by shafts of light from torches) and the three women inthe sparsely furnished office – one desk, one chair and a filing cabinet. Earlier instructions on punctuation and syntax are forgotten in favour of a keyboard competition to see who can produce the most appropriate copy in a given period of time.

The hacks use their own sources to follow the story and also play the roles of mothers at the school gates, swapping gossip and facts in the search for tabloid sensationalism. Throughout the office hierarchy is apparent: Francis (the editor) holds the upper hand, Liz – often mistakenly referred to as Lynn – appears to be some kind of sub-editor and tea lady, and new girl Becky does her best to remain true to her profession.

It is a very stylised and contrived production, which did not engage or involve me. There seems to be a Brechtian distancing, in spite of the small venue and proximity between actors and audience. The atmosphere of a disused well is perfectly conveyed using the internal brick walls of the Vault’s playing space and even includes the sounds of dripping water. Sian Keen also adopts a convincing childlike face as the missing Penny and I could happily have slapped Hannah Kamen’s bitchy editor, but one hour seemed about twenty minutes too long to tell Scratchworks’ tale.