Edinburgh Fringe 2016
This play with puppets is about Alf, a hard working, long-time fisherman who faces the fact that his industry is changing and times are becoming difficult. In Our Hands explores unexpected changes and the effects of loss on people’s lives through a variety of puppetry styles that is creative and entertaining visual storytelling.
In Our Hands is a new theatrical puppet show produced by award winning puppet company, Smoking Apples, who presented their very moving puppet show “Cell” at the 2015 EdFringe, (co produced with Little Cauliflower). Smoking Apples is interested in bringing puppetry that deals with life issues to the forefront, because they believe puppetry is an effective way for people of all ages to learn about them. In Our Hands explores unexpected changes and the effects of loss on people’s lives. In this case, the play is about Alf, a hard working, long-time trawler fisherman who faces the fact that his industry is changing and times are getting very tough.
The original story starts in Alf’s fishing village. It’s a modest place and Alf is feeling down. The sound of the sea, birds and sea faring music transport us to the small coastal town, to meet the characters in this story. The characters, whether human or animal, are played by a wonderful cast of puppets, large and small – in a variety of inventive puppetry styles.
Four actor/puppeteers agilely switch from being live characters in the story, such as fishermen, to puppeteers bringing life to many objects and beautifully crafted puppets. The Smoking Apples are very creative when selecting objects as puppets and use every surface on which to place them to generate a visual feast, which importantly moves the story forward in an entertaining way. For example, a chorus of paper envelopes flap in the air, they are Alf’s unpaid bills wanting to be noticed, or toy boats and lorries are pulled up or across sides of the set to show different perspectives. An exquisitely crafted hungry young sea gull table puppet appears and reappears, beautifully worked, with realistic plaintive shrieks from the puppeteer. This puppet alone is an absolute delight and adds humour and pathos in short bursts.
An interesting aspect is that the story has no words. It is told through the physical interactions of the actors and puppets, with occasional sounds and muffled words that are so effective. Sound effects and music underscore a large part of the story and add atmosphere. Small shimmering sardines and flocks of tiny seagulls – rod puppets – appear briefly. A highlight is the use of shadow puppets to tell parts of the story in silhouette; these moments are short but lovely.
Alf is a modern design based on a deconstructed Japanese Bunraku style puppet, which requires two people to bring him to life, one to work his life size head and one arm, while another puppeteer works the other arm and hand. Visually, the puppeteers become his body, although in reality Alf’s body is imagined by the viewer, and is based on the open space between the head and hands. The crafting of the head and hands is striking, in that it’s appropriately rugged and realistic looking, brownish in colour and other than a thick grey beard, devoid of another colour, decoration, gloss or exaggerated features that puppets of any size often have. The carefully thought out design also adds to Alf’s humble character and relatable personality.
The set itself is a vital part of the story and the various sections and blocks are moved and put together in different ways to transform into a fish counter, an office, Alf’s home, the ocean, to name a few places. Alf has a son who is an interesting pensive fellow and an important and moving part of the story. This puppet is very effective, constructed in similar style to Alf, with separate head and hands, although his hands are more organic than the style of Alf’s hands and possibly more effective visually.
This well trained ensemble of actor/puppeteers collaborate and work well together onstage. They disappear into this meaningful gentle narrative play, while breathing life into their puppets who tell the story.
In Our Hands is a heart-warming thoughtful story with puppets that is utterly engrossing!