Smoking Apples produce theatre that combines puppetry and visual imagery, and are known for their unconventional choice of subject matter.
In their latest production they tackle the fishing industry, showing the problems faced by small independent fisheries. Our main puppet character is Alf, a man who has fished the Cornish coast all his life but is now plagued by debt and preyed upon by the larger companies, who threaten to buy-up his fishing quota.
Whilst the plot may be pedestrian, the puppetry is poetic. Alf is created with a minimalist beauty; we see only his head and hands and yet the ensemble’s well-observed movements are able to convey a world of emotions. We see him ignoring the worsening fate of his business and turning instead to drink.
Meanwhile the strained relationship with his son is only made worse when the magnitude of his debt is revealed.
Smoking Apples are able to communicate the subtleties of this father-son relationship without the actors actually exchanging any dialogue at all. Rather, the puppet functions more like a mask, with the puppeteers control their movements without adding anything more than an ‘arrrr’ or a ‘mmm’. Important plot points are relayed through recorded answerphone messages, which is a clever idea at first, but the device becomes a little tired by the play’s end.
There is much to enjoy in this production, though. Foremost it’s the creative ensemble work; Smoking Apples construct spaces such as a ship’s deck in Cornwall or Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London with simplicity. They also transition between locations with imaginative flair. For example, Alf’s visits to see his son in London involve rainy car journeys, and these take the form of model cars being pushed along a plank under the outpourings of a watering can- the audience lapped up these charming touches.
It’s the same sort of charm that makes one of the puppets- the downcast seagull- one of the highlights of the show. He’s always so close to getting his beak around a morsel of fish or a leftover chip and yet misses out time and time again, which forms a nice comic parallel to Alf’s own journey. The audience end up rooting for both these characters, and it’s satisfying to see their happy endings linked; sardines fill the seagull’s belly and Alf’s pockets.
Although the narrative dips at times, In Our Hands provides the audience with lots of visual pleasure. This company is brimming with talent and hopefully their next piece will tighten up the content so it matches the ingenuity of their style and form.
In Our Hands tours nationally this autumn. For more information go to the Smoking Apples website.