It's always astounding when inanimate objects can warm the heart and arouse emotions, as they do here in Smoking Apples' latest piece. In Our Hands tells the story of Alf, a widowed fisherman, struggling to stay afloat (financially, not literally) in the trawler industry.
This is primarily a feast for the eyes, with a cast that moves seamlessly as one, communicating the story through movement and puppetry and aided by sound. There's no narration or dialogue – other than messages left on Alf's answerphone – so there is a strong reliance on the soundscape of music and noises made by the cast to move the story along and provide atmosphere.
The “human” puppets have only a hand and head, yet are fully expressive, and don't come across as disembodied (as you might expect with such spare design). An adorable puppet bird makes a regular appearance and provides the main comedic ingredient to the show. My favourite moment was its utter joy when, after numerous attempts to catch a snack, it manages to snaffle a large chip, then with much effort coat it in a large dollop of ketchup, only to have it stolen by another seagull before managing a bite. It’s a little heart-breaking, yet funny, and typical of this kind of sweet and involving theatre.
The progress of the story is the only weak link: it’s slightly slow and twee. While the ending is lovely, it does leave questions about where the piece stands, and what it's ultimately trying to communicate about the issues around the fishing industry. However, it's good to see puppetry used to explore real world problems and it’s especially admirable to take on this topic. It’s hardly a safe one for the Fringe, given its potentially dry nature, and the production as a whole does suffer a little due to this choice of subject matter.
But it’s expertly executed, with a fluidity to the scene changes, and an array of visual delights that are slick and skilful. The cast also does a great job of evoking the ambience of the various settings with their mannerisms, sounds, and good use of lighting and props. It perhaps lacks a gripping enough plot to truly engross its audience – but In Our Hands is nonetheless a charming and enjoyable watch.