Venue: Rose Theatre Kingston 24-26 High Street Kingston KT1 1HL
Molly Freeman, Matt Lloyd and Hattie Thomas’s aka the Smoking Apples’s participation in Kingston’s International Youth Arts Festival holds a double honour for them: the premiere of a new work Wordcatcher and their status as one of the Festivals ‘Creative Talent’ companies. Smoking Apples along with six others are promising artists identified and supported by Creative Youth, the charity formed in 2008 to showcase youth arts of the highest quality through IYAF. Busy and productive, this is the company’s third production I’ve viewed in the last twelve months which confirms my view that the it pursues a highly disciplined and detailed approach to their blend of “physical and visual puppetry-based theatre that specifically aims to engage the adult imagination”.
Wordcatcher is evocative and highly choreographed with the use of original music (composed by Russet aka Hattie) and contains a poignant use of language that explores the loss of an individual’s voice in a world full of books, words, phrases and other verbal means of communication. The characters move in a landscape that seems simultaneously indoor and out, private and public. Sometimes the audience views a street on which a busker plays her saxophone, sometimes they see inside a room with a window-ledge lined with books. The drama’s central character is a mute girl who encounters a boy who cannot read. She also meet her alter ego who, as a small puppet, who seems consumed by the books themselves, rather than the other way around. The other member of the cast is a blackbird who plays a kind of in loco parentis role for the girl and ensures that she doesn’t get too lost in the pages on which she is constantly reading or writing.
The dialogue, when it comes, erupts as a surprise from the characters and sounds more like a train of thought rather than a naturalistic conversation. The effect is supported by folds of paper on which are written strings of words that follow the girl around and which, at a climactic moment, break out of her small, battered school case.
The style of presentation that Smoking Apples seem to favour is the economic use of objects and the repetition of physical movement that seem almost ritualistic. You can count what’s on stage almost on one hand: two window frames – one lined with books and another covered with clothe that doubles has a backlit screen; one well-used school case, one saxophone and saxophone case. Similarly, the use of repetition of movement simplifies the narrative down to the problem of the girl living in her own world while others attempt to interact with her.
The musical score for the piece is utterly lovely to listen too – richly moving, it blends seamlessly with Hattie Thomas’s live saxophone playing. The music literally sets up the shows heart beat which, even in its silent moments, the audience views canon-like moves and slapstick type passing on of books and other objects. It is that beat which continues to drive the story forward.
There are two aspects of the production that work less effectively for me. The first is the width of the stage that seemed to detract from the character’s drive to connect with one another. Logically, the size kept throwing up the sense that encounters between characters could be nothing but contrived and staged. Consequently, such a feeling led me to disconcertingly feel what would it matter if the characters missed each other. What was it about these particular people and the blackbird that arise from this place, at this time?
I’m sure the company will continue to develop such an interesting piece about the on-going problems of catching just the right word to start and remain in relationship with self and others. If you haven’t experienced a Smoking Apples’ show yet to enlivened your imagination, I suggest you do so as early as you can. It’s wonderful to experience.
Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Saturday 7th July 2012
International Youth Arts Festival @ the Rose