Science and the arts; as diametrically opposed on first glance as water and fire, lead and gold. Where art is all about exploring and empathising with the unknown and the grey areas, science is driven in fact-quantifiable evidence, black and white. Artists are generally seen as social creatures, the day to day gig helping them become socially empathetic and able to make small talk. Scientists…. not so much. Yet the joy of Bucket Club’s Fossils playing at the Wardrobe Theatre until Saturday is that it takes the forensic focus that is science’ life blood and tunes it, making a work as laser focused as it is charming. For all the play at the heart of this show- with intentionally dodgy accents, winks to the audience and plastic dinosaurs- there is something technically assured and clear at its base. Writer/Director Nel Crouch never allows it to veer too far off course, the science and the art always in balance, the exploration as clear as the research Vanessa undertakes on a daily basis.
At 28 years old and having spent almost all this in the lab, Vanessa is used to structure, discipline and fact. Yet haunting her daily life is the disappearance of her father when she was 16, missing in action as he hunted for the mythic Loch Ness Monster. When Nessie hits the tabloids, Vanessa retraces his steps hoping to make her own essential discovery. In all honesty, the narrative is not the works strongest element, there are no surprises here, no explorations into the magic realist realms you might expect the work to make, science is built on solid element, not fancy forays into the mythical.
What makes the 70 minute work so charming is its assured sense of stagecraft. Helen Vinten shows both the dedicated scientist and the little girl lost as Vanessa, her ferocious work drive never fully hiding the fear, the disapproval of her father’s letters still turning her into a little girl lost. Her exploration to find out what happened to him feels as futile as finally getting to the bottom of what is at the bottom of the Loch. Adam Farrell and Luke Murphy play both the two PHD students she shares her Lab with and other assorted characters with gleeful ease and provide the haunting live soundscape at the heart of the work. The staging makes the most of the lo-fi elements, a little toy dingy being placed in a glass case of water is especially effective. On little resources they build up a world as rich in meaning as that of Paulo Coelho.
Even with the short running time Crouch never rushes, always prepared to allow the work to take its time, reflect on the results of each action. Like the best science, it doesn’t rush to come to its conclusion, like the best art it engages the emotions early and never lets up. Recommended.