In terms of nautical drama the perils of EU fishing quotas are hardly up there with perfect storms or doomed lovers colliding with icebergs, but Smoking Apples have nevertheless carried off that peculiar theatrical trick of making such dry things engaging in this pleasant if somewhat slight puppetry show. The story concerns a West Country fisherman facing down bankruptcy and the threat of larger fishing companies better fit to survive in a heavily regulated environment, with a supporting cast of his distant but loving son, puppet seagulls and the occasional toy lorry.
This is a tight, well-drilled show, with the pleasing handcraft aesthetic allowing an admirable economy of storytelling: toy boats adrift on a fishing net radio each other with exposition (there is no direct spoken dialogue) and various toys stand in for parts of the vast logistical machinery that gets fish from the sea to the local chippie. They are snappy and effective tokens for telling the wider story surrounding our hero. The company understand exactly the gleeful playfulness that can make devised theatre such an efficient narrative tool, and the puzzlebox of tricks they have at their disposal will delight while also getting through the material at speed.
The material itself is hardly ground-breaking, though it is heartfelt. The relationship of father and son is one that is moving and not cloying. It doesn’t need to be profound; a simple story told well can be extremely satisfying without having a political agenda or anything more ‘sophisticated’ shoe-horned in.
Not that it’s the most professional piece of puppetry you’re likely to see – the young company still don’t quite have the lithe effortless grace that characterises the great companies working in the field, nor does it feel like the kind of story that could only be told with puppetry. It is more the kind of show where you feel the brilliance is just bubbling under the surface, as if a week’s further devising or story development would have brought out something more impressive than simply charming. The recorded music is a case in point, giving the show a slightly undercooked feel.
That said, I’m sure this company have good things in their future, just as soon as they manage to get real bite into their considerable inventive abilities – from there on it will all be smooth sailing.
In Our Hands is playing at the New Diorama until September 18.
Photo: Richard Davenport