Some time ago, a little company called Smoking Apples and Little Cauliflower (now called Dogfish) got together to create a show called CELL. Nominated for a Peter Brook Festival Award at AYT’s Incoming Festival, and captivating audiences ever since. Smoking Apples have been going from strength to strength, with their show In Our Hands also receiving critical acclaim. Now, they’ve been taking CELL around the country on a new tour, and I’ve been lucky enough to catch it on its stop at Slung Low’s HUB in Leeds.
CELL follows the story of Ted. He’s a huge stamp enthusiast and spends all of his time collecting them from postcards he receives. He also receives a goldfish, which he gradually makes his pet. One day, however, he notices that something’s not quite right with his body, so he pops along to the hospital to find out what’s up. Eventually, he’s diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, and makes the decision to go on the adventure of a lifetime with his goldfish while he’s still got some movement left in him.
I honestly don’t know where to start with CELL. It took me a while to gather my thoughts on it, since it was such an incredibly moving piece, but I’ll do my best! We’ll start with Smoking Apples’ signature puppetry. Ted, who’s a short, bald little puppet, is beautifully puppeteered by CELL’s three performers, Matthew Lloyd, Molly Freeman and Dogfish’s William Aubrey Jones. They capture and execute his movements perfectly, and Lloyd’s multitude of grunts, sighs and other human noises bring Ted to life. The lack of dialogue in the piece focuses all of our attention on Ted’s movement, along with the other things that happen on stage. It’s refreshing and uncluttered, and allows complete focus on the well-conceived narrative.
Surrounding Ted is a lovely array of production aspects, which all come together to form a well-considered, pleasant and visually pleasing scenography. Emily Appleton Holley’s compositions are emotive and evocative, perfectly complimenting tender moments in the piece, like when Ted’s being diagnosed. Sherry Coenen’s lighting is also refreshing, with simple washes and specific illuminations being employed to highlight poignant moments in Ted’s story. Complementing these features is Samuel Wyer’s shadow puppet design, which adds another lovely visual aesthetic to the narrative and emphasises the delightful theatricality of the piece.
CELL is very moving, mainly due to the sensitivity with which it tells its story and explores its subject matter. It mixes together just the right amount of emotions and levels of dramatic tension to create a show that’s incredibly accessible to audiences. It utilises the full power of theatrical storytelling to engage, entertain and inform, and is confident and clear from start to finish.
I couldn’t recommend CELL enough. Smoking Apples and Dogfish are onto an absolute winner with this production. They carry everything out with flair and finesse in a way that fully harnesses the values of theatre and its power to reach audiences in a live, raw manner. If you get the chance to see CELL, wherever it will end up in the future, make sure you go and see it. It’s an enjoyable, moving and highly accessible piece of theatre.
CELL played at Slung Low’s HUB in Leeds and is continuing on tour. For more information on Smoking Apples and for tickets, visit smokingapplestheatre.com/show/cell.
Photo: Adam Bruce