The Making of 'In Our Hands'
By Molly Freeman (Smoking Apples Theatre Company)
Molly Freeman takes us through the making of their puppetry-based theatre show, In Our Hands, which is being performed at Plymouth’s pop-up theatre festival Outpost 2015.
Performances of ‘In Our Hands’ are at 8pm on Wednesday 14th and Thursday 15th October
Making a show about Trawler fishing hasn’t been the easiest project we’d ever done but then again, if there was no challenge involved, we just wouldn’t have been interested in it at all! It’s becoming quite a habit of ours to take complicated subject matter, wrap it inside a heartfelt, human narrative and make it accessible for everyone. I’m not going to lie though, there have been a couple of points during this process where I have wondered if we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. Combine that with working with puppetry and non-verbal visual theatre and it’s safe to say we were a little daunted!
So, the question is, how did we get from feeling overwhelming and daunted by our ludicrous ideas to actually making them happen, creating the material and getting them on stage? Well, the simple answer is a LOT of trial and error. And once again, thanks to our very useful way of working, this cannot be done without a huge amount of effort. For every idea we want to try we need puppets, set and props so a huge amount of time and energy is invested before the idea is even off the ground – *gulp*. I know, that makes us sound like absolute lunatics but despite the initial hmph about it all, it does seem to be the best way of creating material for us.
There were some things we knew we wanted to include early on from our research on Trawling in Cornwall so in the beginning, we let these things lead us. Trawler fishermen are very efficient people, they only move when and where they absolutely have to and there is no superfluous movement. It’s the same in their environment, on the boats, everything has a place and a purpose, they’ll be a hook there because that’s where they hang the rope or they’ll be a hatch there because that’s where they pour the fish into. No space is wasted, nothing is unnecessary. With this in mind, we started to work with our set designer Sam to create a set that was very stripped back but had endless possibilities. What we have now in the final show are three different sized blocks on wheels but all of them fit together in different configurations, they open up to create new spaces and reveal new things on a constant basis. What the things revealed are and what spaces we could make completely chopped and changed throughout the process of making the show but we developed a relationship between using the set to inspire the material and then adapting the set to suit the material.
“For every idea we want to try we need puppets, set and props so a huge amount of time and energy is invested before the idea is even off the ground – *gulp*. I know, that makes us sound like absolute lunatics but despite the initial hmph about it all, it does seem to be the best way of creating material for us.”
Another huge ‘argh’ moment (not as in a Pirate ‘argh’ but a frustrated ‘argh’) was when it came to balancing a heartfelt, enjoyable narrative about a person, Alf, with the very real and often scientific and political facts about the current fishing industry. There is a huge amount of information surrounding Trawling and at times, it can be very dense and difficult to understand. Once we’d got our heads around it, it was then very tricky to find a way of showing that to an audience, without relying on words and also making sure that it was still something watchable. Some of the issues around Trawling involve big picture thinking, the ocean is vast and we wanted to be able to show what happens in it. We started to play around with a little model of a Trawler boat on a string and it all catapulted from there on this one. We found that by scaling everything down, we could zoom the audience’s perspective right out and let them see the whole ocean, under it and also it could give them a national and global look at the problems. The miniature scale, once developed, has also given us a fun way of interacting too. These moments in the show are all a bit tongue in cheek but we really hope this makes the audiences want to come with us and invest in what we’re doing. I mean who doesn’t love mini Eddie Stobart lorries right?
I’ve talked about just a tiny bit of the creative impetus behind the show here and how our minds worked in order to make it. It’s been a real labour of love and yes, that includes what I said at the beginning about worrying whether we’d be able to do it or not. But we’ll let you be the judge of that. Please do come and see us (and Alf and the Eddie Stobart lorries), we’d love to know what you think and will be in the bar afterwards if you’d like to chat.