Founded in 2009 by a trio of students at the Rose Bruford College, Smoking Apples is a promising young company that specialises in puppetry and visual theatre, which – while Britain holds its breath in the aftermath of the Brexit vote – finds the perfect timing to re-propose the 2014 production of In Our Hands. The play – at the New Diorama Theatre for three days as a part of a UK tour – explores the difficulties that Cornish fishermen had to face after the imposition of EU quotas on fish, which appear quite easy to manipulate by larger corporations.
Inspired by the real life of Stefan Glinsky, In Our Hands is the story of Alf, a dedicated trawler fisherman from Newlyn who’s forced to sell his boat and quotas in order to settle some pressing debts. But, instead of being the end of everything, this desperate move is just the beginning of an amazing journey that sees Alf establish, with the help of his son, the new and prosperous market of Cornish sardines.
Despite the nearly-absent use of spoken words, Smoking Apples uses some ingenious tricks to guide the audience through the deeds of the kind old man, who seems to be worried for his crew’s fate more than for his own. Innovative puppetry is used together withtraditional physical techniques, whilst miniature boat and car models play a significant role alongside more stylised props – like the fish itself. Alf and his offspring are just a full-size head and a pair of hands that come to life under the experienced hands of George Bellamy, Luke Breen, Molly Freeman, Matthew Lloyd and Hattie Thomas, who demonstrate a thought-provoking receptiveness and an acute sense of observation for stereotypical human behaviours. Camaraderie, fatigue, misery, love and loneliness are strikingly expressed on stage and the attention to detail is so high that if you blink, you’ll miss one of the guys’ sighs or their accurately choreographed moves.
Remarkable support comes from the ingenious changeability of the set, designed by the talented Samuel Wyer, whereas Jo Walker’s original score provides a catchy motif that comes back throughout the narration. SherryCoenen’s lighting reaches its finest moment in correspondence of a radio conversation between boats, when the auditorium is immersed in darkness and the cast uses flashlights to illuminate the mini-vessels alternately.
In Our Hands is a veracious and visually poignant account of a hot topic, which could still benefit from a further polishing in the transition between scenes, but I am in no doubt that Smoking Apples have all the potential to achieve perfection.
Review by Marianna Meloni