Smoking Apples blog for In Our Hands is available here. Please do have a look and let us know what you think. 




 Story and Structure


It is great to be working with the Apples on 'In Our Hands', with a fresh new subject to tackle. After seeing the scratch performance at Little Angel theatre, it was clear to me that the show has a strong visual aesthetic and performance style and that the ensemble work well together. At this early stage I asked the company about their hopes and dreams for the piece, some aims included: informing the audience about the political, environmental and strict regulation surrounding trawling and the impact this has on communities such as Newlyn, use lighting to clearly demarcate space and place, and that the piece has a human 'heart'. We started to discuss narrative for the piece and let our imaginations run wild about what could be going on plot wise in this world we are creating. Perhaps the town has secrets and mysteries the audience might not be expecting, what we will choose to uncover and reveal is a tantalising question. I helped the cast discuss and reflect on their ideas so far, acting as a sounding board and story shaper.

We discussed Alf the main character and at this point the need to develop a stronger sense of who he is, his traits, behaviours and characteristics. We drew on the research and people that the company met in Newlyn, this formed a starting point on which to build our own fictional narrative. We will work in much more detail with the puppetry and stylistic elements of the piece once our narrative vision is more formed.

We hope to be able to present information about trawling and the complexities and issues surrounding it, whilst giving the audience an engaging experience and empathy with the situation of the characters. This is a big dramaturgical challenge and one which relies on the piece working well on a visual, narrative and stylistic level. Some audience members from the scratch at Little Angel thought that some of the scenes were a little didactic, something we will try and avoid in future. One of the tasks we face is to present information and facts that the audience needs to know, pinning them to the main themes and plot. At some point we will have our 'eureka' moment and the narrative will fall into place, for now the puzzle has not yet been solved, but it is fun trying to work it out.

Gemma Williams - RedThreaders Dramaturgy


Research before work

For me, researching by going and experiencing is a new way of working, as you may have read in previous blogs we went on a research trip to Newlyn Cornwall, and whilst we met many people and experienced new things and learnt about trawling and fishing, it was the finer details of the way in which the fisherman operated, the sights we took in and the sense of team and companionship that got me interested and well... excited about devising a show around trawling and the fishing industry.
All of which have informed our work and in fact the way in which the characters do their actions. By this I mean that whilst devising and creating we have lots of ideas flowing and flying around but most of the time we then say "hang on, how about when we saw so and so do this" or when "they moved in complete unison".
This anchor (excuse the pun) of research that we gained in the first instance continually informs the work. Of course we take some "artistic licence" in some aspects but the research at the beginning has enhanced our knowledge of trawling which in turn has changed our rehearsal process.
We wanted to avoid the classic fishing tale of "all in yellow waders" "folk song" (not that they are wrong because I've seen many great shows like that) but because in modern day fishing that just didn't happen... well at least what I saw it didn't happen. "Do you sing when you work" I asked a fisherman... to which he turned whilst exhaling a cigarette and said "do I look like a singer then?"... fair point, not really I thought!
Conversations of having text in the show was something we discussed early on and it was soon something we wanted to limit a lot because whilst out trawling one of the fisherman said to me "if you wasn't here today we wouldn't be talking to each other". This was a comment that has stuck in my head throughout.
The only language I observed was the subtle nods as crew passed, the winks, the inaudible shouts whilst hauling the net and of course the fish as they clattered the deck.
These are the little moments that I enjoy capturing the most and the subtle difference of taking the research and experienced gained into a live puppetry performance.
Jonagold over and out!



Switching it round and making new work

"We need to show Alf's home life, that he has family and is happy" so we teetered on making a sweet scene between husband and wife, he brings her flowers, they hold hands and so on. We then looked back at our research and realised it just didn't fit. The idea of returning from a 14 hour day at 10pm to have a sweet romantic evening with the wife just doesn't hold up to the reality of the situation. To be honest, I found it so reassuring when we worked this out, the research we have done and are continuing to do is such an important part of the show we are making, when we remember to work with this information and not against it then we really start to get things rolling.

The scenes we presented at IYAF in July are being cut and spliced, it is almost as though the show has a life of its own as it develops and scenarios fit together despite our expectations to the contrary. These last three days of rehearsals have reminded me to enjoy developing ideas and not to be too careful about making big changes to the storyline. Having new perspectives and voices in the room has definitely influenced the fresh kick that In Our Hands seems to be enjoying, at first I thought, 'hang on, no that isn't it' and then like a switch I realised that anything could change.

I have never collaborated with a dramaturg (Gemma Williams - Red Threaders) and a designer (Samuel Wyer) like the very lovely people we are working with now, I was not involved in the rehearsal process for CELL and as a company we have never had an external designer work through the research and development process with us. I don't want to sound like I am overplaying it but it has been brilliant! Having other artists in the room who look at what we are doing from a completely different point of view and are constantly suggesting things pushes us in a really positive way. Just one small thing that we hadn't seen like reordering the scenes has made the opening seem to flow very well. I'm excited to see what tomorrow brings!

Hattie - Russet


Sunday 14th September 2014

Sunday 14th September 2014

Day one of Pleasance rehearsals for In Our Hands

So today was my first real day of In Our Hands rehearsals. Having seen the work in progress at Kingston I was eager to get into the space and get up to date on the creative process. Today was also Gemma's (the dramaturg) first session after watching the version at Hatch, so naturally we came into the room hungry to learn about the trip to Newlyn, what they had discovered and how we can add to the work already in place.

It became apparent listening to the ins and outs of Trawler fishing and its industry that there is somewhat a divide between those who do the fishing and those who decide how it is done. Its the gap that a lot of governing bodies have with those that they govern, and it appears that from the fishermans point of view it makes actually fishing and keeping the trade alive in Britain very difficult. One piece of information that surprised me was that once a boat has been a fishing boat under one mans license it then can never be a fishing boat again. He either must make adjustments for it to become a houseboat or sell it for scrap. Therefore it seems he cannot pass it down to his son once he has become too old to do the difficult work involved, the son must buy a new one and start from there, which can get very expensive. How can this method of fishing be continued if there is no younger generation coming through the ranks?

Listening to the accounts of the people that they met in Newlyn, and the experience of being on a trawler boat, the struggles to make a catch that will cover the expenses of a trip and earn the fishermen a wage is very apparent. The work is very hard, leaving at 4am returning at 8pm, and having to go out again the next day because they didn't make enough money. One particular story of a man who fishes with the bare essentials reminded me of "The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway. Where an old fisherman who is having no luck, catches a giant fish after a physically exhausting 2 days wearing it down, only to have the meat eaten by sharks on the return journey home. This then led me onto a video where an artist Aleksandr Petrov created a beautiful short film of this story using oil-on-glass, and it has been edited to include music:

The atmosphere the video creates for me the beauty and stillness of being out to sea, and element which attracts many of the fishermen to continue to fish, being out to sea.

From the experiences Luke and Matt had on board the boat, one of the points to come up was that silence was a big part of being on the boat, the fishermen worked efficiently and silently together as they have done it for so long. Silence, is very much present within In Our Hands, the sounds of the boat, the sounds of the docks and the sea are there, and the puppetry informs the narrative, which is why it is a perfect method for exploring the issues and lives that encompass trawling.

However the question begs, should we be continuing to use trawling as a method for fishing? Are the constraints that the EU are putting on trawling trying to act as a deterrent so that the trawlermen will become forced to find other methods of fishing? These other methods will certainly make fish become more expensive as trawling is the cheaper method, but will the public accept this price increase, or start buying imported trawled fish because it is cheaper?

Most of the fish that we buy in the UK is fished locally, but a lot of the trawled fish by the bigger companies will be sold to poorer countries who need fish but cannot afford the higher price of sustainable fishing, what should happen here? As the project moves on so will the questions, as more sides of the story are uncovered, I cant wait. 


George Bellamy

Bramley Apple




Monday 15th September - Conquer


Those who have known us for a while will recognise that we normally work in a three when it comes to our devised shows. But, of course, in true Apple style, we have decided to throw ourselves in at the deep end (awkward pun, gah, GOT to stop doing that!).

You may have noticed that for this show, we are in a cast of five with the addition of George and Luke. Now, working with new people is not something we are strangers to and to be fair, unlike our last project, CELL, where we were collaborating with another company, we have worked with both George and Luke for a number of years but we have never devised a show with them.

Working collaboratively presents it's own set of problems, as does working with a larger cast but for every difficulty, a thousand things are made that much easier. For example, we are no longer having to bind ourselves by our lack of numbers and in our sort of puppetry, this can only be a good thing. There are more opportunities, more thoughts, more bodies in the space and ultimately, more hands to animate with.

We've only been R&D'ing In Our Hands for two days now but already i'm finding myself asking, does a bigger cast make it harder or easier? I know that's a stupid question to ask because the answer will always be, it makes it different. I'm certainly finding that in the rehearsal room, the 'more' of everything can be both hugely plentiful but also have destructive potential. The conversation sometimes splits with one half going on a tangent about one thing and the other half on another. The repetition because not everyone heard or not everyone understood. The constantly varying levels of energy, concentration and focus.

Devising as a collective, without a leader, isn't easy at the best of times and we will have to work hard to maintain a forward motion within our newly founded five. The challenge for us now is to make sure that everyone pulls in a similar direction and we use our size to our advantage, physically, mentally and emotionally.

To be fair though, the challenge is why we chose to do it. The challenge is what keeps it exciting and interesting. The challenge is terrifying and will quite possibly not work. The challenge is what we want to conquer. The challenge is what we will conquer.

- Molly



It doesn't feel like it was three months ago that we visited Newlyn, Cornwall, for our first foray into the world of Trawler fishing. It feels like we went a couple of weeks ago, came back and worked on our initial ideas for the show.

As some of you may know, we returned from the above trip, in late June, to receive news that we hadn't been successful with our R&D application for In Our Hands. We were pretty gutted at the time and to have had such an incredible week in Cornwall, coming back to a no was quite difficult to swallow.

So, why was Newlyn so fantastic? Well, for me, personally, the best thing was having all (literally ALL) of my preconceptions about fishing and trawling completely blasted out of the water (excuse the pun). Generally speaking, I like to think of myself as someone who is fairly well-educated about current affairs, politics and environmental issues. I like to think of myself as not being ignorant, absorbing information so that I can have an informed viewpoint on stuff, so, it was a bit of a surprise to spend a week in Newlyn to find out that I was entirely wrong!

I thought that fishing was passed down through generations, through the male line. Wrong. It isn't. I thought that trawling would require a tactile craft, it doesn't. I thought that the fishermen we met would be steeped in tradition, desperately grasping onto old fashioned values, they aren't.

Stupid me.

But being proved wrong, very wrong, was what made it so exciting. We were very lucky that the fishermen of Newlyn Harbour were so forthcoming and welcoming. That made it a lost easier to be re-educated as it were. We learnt so much is such a short space of time, we met so many incredible characters, saw so many spectacular sights, my brain was literally imploding with visuals. Everything about trawler fishing, the people who do it, the harbours, the boats the machinery etc. arrests the senses. The look is rusty, mechanical, industrial, practical and efficient, the sounds are loud, a mixture of man-made chinks, clunks and thumps mixed with the natural sounds of the sea and coast. And the smell, well, the smell is the smell. Salty, fishy, fresh.

Driving back to London, the car stank. We'd filled it with tons of scraps from around the harbour, rope, nets, metal, hooks, wood. I remember feeling so excited, envigorated and raring to go.

Then, came the no.

But you know, i'm glad we got the no. I'm glad we re-submitted with our trip to Newlyn firing us along. I'm glad we were able to use that research from Cornwall and our rehearsals and the audiences in Kingston to refine our artistic concept and most of all, i'm glad that this time, they said YES!

- Molly


Sea Sickness and A Pile Of Nets


So there I was awake at 3:15 in the morning glancing tiredly over towards Sam Wyer who was sleeping with a life sized foam penguin. Matt and I get into the car and drive down to the harbour to meet Tom McClure. The previous day he had invited us to join him on a day of trawling but had warned us of the long shift and also advised us on getting dark chocolate and nuts. We thought this might be some sort of fishermen's secret but it turns out Tom just likes dark chocolate and nuts.

We awaited the arrival of Tom and his shipmate Dick. I never found out his last name so I like to assume that it was also McClure and that they were the McClure fishing brothers. Dick arrived first at 4:00am. No greeting, he just got on and started preparing the ship, leaving myself and Matt to wander momentarily whether we had found the right boat. Shortly after, Tom arrived with what appeared to be a weeks' worth of supplies. He introduced us to Dick who turned, thin cigarette jutting out the side of his mouth, nodded and then carried on. He was a man of few words. Many of those words were difficult to hear.

After about 10 minutes the boat took off speeding away from the harbour. I didn't really know how I could help. It felt weird at first with no brief or plan; I just stood there feeling as if I'd snuck onto the boat accidentally. As the sun rose we could see the entire coast in beautiful silhouette. I wondered how often Tom and Dick took it in, the surroundings, the beauty of the sea. It felt great to be out on deck with a coffee and a cigarette watching the coastline fade away in the distance. That was when my day took a turn for the worst.

Now in the day leading up to this trip the whole company were worried about me being seasick. I personally wasn't too concerned but after a whole day of worrying and trying to find seasick tablets (which we never did) I couldn't stop thinking about it. It all kicked off when Tom and Dick told us to move into the Wheelhouse as they were about to start putting the net out and didn't want us in the way. We had been travelling at a fairly high speed up to this point so the boat wasn't really rocking in any way that would encourage sickness. When they slowed the boat down to start cruising I began to feel odd. Convinced that if I just ignored it and focussed on the job that it would pass, I finished my cigarette and paused. Then the familiar, awful dry feeling accompanied by an overwhelming urge to swallow came over me and I threw the rest of my coffee over the side of the ship and quickly entered the wheelhouse were Matt was giving me a knowing eye. I waited for Tom and Dick to focus their attention of the net then I leapt from the wheelhouse to the side of the boat and threw-up the coffee I had just drank.

I. Felt. Like. Shit. The majority of my day was spent in the foetal position on either a chair in the wheelhouse, a pile of nets or the engine hatch. The latter was by far the best option. In and out of sleep I tried my best to participate in the work. I awoke to hear Matt in conversation with Tom about some of the issues with the show. I then had a great talk with him about my work at Sea Life and some of my own questions around his work. I really wish I hadn't been sick.

Finding my pile of nets for the first time was a great discovery. It gave me time to wallow in my own self-pity away from the wheelhouse and the experienced eyes of Dick and Tom. According to Dick my case of sea sickness was weak compared to other people he has seen. He told Matt about a time when the sea was storming and the boat was rocking very hard. Loads of water washed the deck leaving at least a foot of water. One of the crew felt so sea sick he simply strapped himself into a life-

jacket and lay on the deck too weak to move. He also told us of a trawler man he knew who experienced sea sickness every time he went trawling. Every day he would have to go to work knowing that he would feel terrible.

It wasn't that I felt particularly sick, I just couldn't move for risk of getting worse. Tom and Dick were happy for me to sit on the nets so long as I moved back into the wheelhouse when the catch came up. That short walk from the nets on one end of the ship to the wheelhouse at the other was my Everest. I managed to pull myself up when the catch came in so I could film it. I even felt good enough later on to film Matt doing some gutting. All in all I felt pretty useless on the boat. I pushed myself to eat something having only had a crumpet at 3:30am and nothing else all day. I wisely declined the curry Tom had made as I could foresee a disaster had I joined them. Instead I chewed pathetically on a ham bap like a baby goat on a bottle of milk. Cocooned in a bubble of self-pity and illness I slowly made my way through my lunch. I was actually proud of my achievement.

Being ill afforded me a lot of time to reflect on the issues we had come to tackle and explore. Tom and Dick really seemed to need each other in order to do their job. Everything they did was done in perfect unison. They navigated the ship as if it was their own living room. It seemed to me that it would be quite easy to actually spend more time on the boat than at home. The day ran from 4:00 till 21:00. In fact, they told us that because they didn't catch enough they would have to come out again the next day in order to make a profit. The job they do requires an incredible amount of endurance more than anything. The day consisted of putting the net out, one person having a kip, bringing the catch in, sorting, gutting, cleaning, putting it on ice then repeating the whole process three times. They didn't play any music and even Dick said that if we weren't there he probably wouldn't have spoken at all. It made me wonder what they thought about when one of them was asleep and the other had nothing but the sea and the seagulls to keep him company…

ANYWAY back to the sickness! Once the last haul had been brought in Tom speed up towards the coast for the return trip. As if by magic I felt renewed life. I immediately put the gloves on desperate to get involved in the work before we got back. Luckily I was able to have a go at gutting and sorting. It is definitely something that requires practice. Dick for example was able to gut three of four fish in the time it took me to do one, and he was smoking the whole time as well.

As we got nearer the shore I began to feel better and better, slightly embarrassed that my illness appeared so conveniently temporary. We returned to the harbour, hauled up the fish from below deck and returned to the pontoon to dock. Leaving the chocolate and nuts on Tom's chair we said our goodbyes and returned to the car stinking to high heaven, hungry and for myself relieved that my illness stayed with the ship.



In Our Hands, Newlyn blog 1


A fortunate encounter at 6am led us into the company of Barry, a line mackerel fisherman. We had waited 3/4 hours for him the previous day in the hope of joining him on his boat but must have missed him entirely. however, we decided to sacrifice our sleep and get down to the harbour to see the fish market, who did we find trundling in after the market was already in full swing? Barry.

He said hello, weighed his catch and then proceeded to sort it into large, medium and small fish, simply checking them for a second before throwing them into the correct tray. He seemed to go entirely at his own pace, his internal and external rhythms seemed to be in balance most of the time, never rushed and stopping when his thoughts or words required it.
We made some small talk, interpreting his very thick and musical corning accent as best we could and were invited to go out on his boat that morning. So after his mackerel had been bid and reserved by different companies he took us out to the boat.

Barry has a small boat which is built for purpose and nothing more, he has a logical and simple reason, 'if I've got time to paint it and make it pretty then I've got time to fish' he keeps the engine in working order and that is enough. Sailing out onto a very calm sea just after the sun has risen was one thing, but to see how well he knows the waters and the other fishermen was fascinating. As the boat chugged along he pointed out who had left the buoys (and therefore there nets) out, he knows them all definitely from afar. I remember feeling like I wanted to be able to catch the tranquility and take it with me, and this is part of his job, admittedly the weather isn't always that good.

We passed a friend of his on another boat who was lobster fishing, we saw him pull up the seaweed and rope covered cages and open them up. He pulled out some bits of seaweed which were thrown back immediately, and then we cheered as he produced a lobster from the contraption. 'They're too small' chimes Barry, and right on cue his friend dropped the lobster back in the sea to carry on living, grow a little bigger and perhaps be caught another day. Again, fascinating.

After which we continued mackerel fishing. Barry began looking for a change in the colour and motion of the water, when he found what he was looking for we went closer and sure enough there was a pull on the line. Barry set the boat's rudder to one side and the boat went in circles near to where we picked up the first three fish. Apparently mackerel like to hide underneath the boat so by going in circles you can catch them out. Personally I could see there was a difference in the water but I could not pinpoint it, I do not know if Barry's awareness is purely born out of his experience, but it seemed like magic. For a city girl like myself to see someone who knows nature this well was astonishing. The sea, one of the most dangerous and extraordinary aspects of nature that surrounds our planet and these fishermen have picked out its patterns and learned how to work with it to make their living. It is so far removed from my previous experience of watching documentaries that I could not help but be impressed.

Unfortunately we didn't catch any more that day, the day had become too bright for them and Barry was kind enough to give us the three fish he caught for our dinner. I wanted to give him money for them, I felt like that would be taking his money form him but of course he insisted.

Just a couple of hours on the boat with Barry gave us a taste of the way of life that Barry can not give up, perhaps it is the solitude, perhaps it is being master of ones own work. But why are there so few young people going into fishing? To start working in this industry requires a lot of financial backing from the start as boats and licenses do not come cheap, and then there is the cost of quota (the amount of a species of fish you are allowed to catch). Barry is an example of someone who knows exactly how to catch the fish he does through years of experience, when we went fishing with him he hardly seemed to think about it, singing to himself as he worked.



DAY 16 - Freshly Scratched at the BAC


Matt we are then, our second Scratch in one week. This morning, we all arrive at the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) for our 11am tech rehearsal.The stage is smaller than expected so after a quick 20 minutes tech we are off to rehearse in Kingston.

Firstly we tape the floor in the rehearsal room to the size of the BAC's stage, and start running through our 10 minute section to get use to the stage size.

On Wednesday we made a list of things we wanted to refine after the Blue Elephant scratch. So we made our way through the list, refining little details. One example of this is in the diagnosis scene, adding in Ted (we have now named the puppet) reading a health leaflet, while the doctors/ensemble pull out x-rays and scans around him. We decided to take our time in the imagination sequence, looking at where the puppeteer stands so as to not block the puppet, to making minute details like the head making subtle movements.

After rehearsal we are back off to the BAC, we are last in the evening's running order and so get the opportunity to watch other pieces, which was a welcomed break to our busy week. After performing, we collect our feedback and have the chance to speak to some people.  The feedback below reflects the audiences thoughts and feelings:

"Beautiful. Absolutely charming puppetry. Genuinely moving."

 "Needs music for paper flying about...otherwise promising piece."

"Beautiful and heart-breakingly emotional. My Grandad is currently undergoing similar trauma and is was almost agonising to watch, you really made me feel for the puppet. Huge opportunity of emotionally touching many people. Keep up the awesome work."


DAY 15 - The Morning after the night before

Last night I went to sleep feeling incredibly humbled and overwhelmed by the comments and feedback from our first scratch of CELL at the Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell. As with all scratches, the emphasis is on the experimentation and testing of new ideas in front of a supportive audience but as a performer, there is always something incredibly nerve-wracking about doing this. However, the positives of gaining constructive feedback that can be used in future rehearsals, massively outweighs this.

There were a number of surprises in terms of the audience reactions at the Blue Elephant which made us reassess the potential of each section we have created so far. The first surprise was the comedic value of the scene with Ted and the fish. The audience found it very humorous and took a particular liking to the fish with many comments about how much they enjoyed this little character. This was the first moment we presented and I wonder if the humour came from seeing an initial animation or whether it was because the audience could easily relate to the relationship between Ted and the fish. 

During our process so far and in our journey to make our 10 minute scratch performance, we made the choice to create a mini piece rather than a 10 minute extract of a longer show. This was because we wanted to see if we could show the physical degeneration of Ted and whether this would come across clearly, due to a disease or whether it might be mistaken as old age. Some of the audience from the Blue Elephant said that it looked like a story of old age and some commented that it looked like a physically degerative disease so, therefore, we spent much of our rehearsal today exploring way of making this clearer. We wanted to change this today so that we can try a new approach in front of the audience at the BAC tomorrow night. We tried to focus in sharpening the diagnosis section and using brain scans and pictures of neurones to allude to MND without saying it. At this stage, we don't want to categorise Ted as having MND but i'm sure there will come a point where we do, most likely in our longer version of CELL.

I'm intrigued, excited and once again feeling nervous about presenting our scratch at the BAC tomorrow, let's see what the day brings...



DAY 13 - The Long - To - Do - List

Well, what a day. The morning was spent trying to finish our building jobs. When we met at the Rose Theatre at 1.30pm, we had a puppet body, a table, a chair and importantly, a puppet head which we are feeling pretty pleased with. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent addressing problems and issues we had with the puppet itself and how we would use it on Tuesday at the scratch. There was a lot of deliberation, running around Primark, BHS and M&S, foam cutting and coffee drinking, but we got there in the end with a long to-do list and left the building at 7pm to go away and do our tasks. We reconvene tomorrow at 10am where I will lead a practical session until 3pm with our work-in-progress puppet. 



DAY 12 - Blocking

Over the last week, Matt, Molly and Will all started to develop and build our puppet and props. Foam was being carved, clay was being moulded and tables being constructed. I was in Ireland at a family time will come! 


Today we met to discuss how our puppet and prop pieces have come along. We decided that we needed to return to our workshop this afternoon to finish them all for Tuesday's scratch at the Blue Elephant Theatre. But before we all ran off in different directions, we all went through some of our scenes and blocked them. Using a script Will had set up in Google Docs (which is a God send when creating new work), I was able to quickly type up each detail and movement. 

Now that was logged, we went our separate ways to construct. 


DAY 11 - Walking and Imagination


Today's rehearsal, started with the movement of the puppet's legs in action, just the legs, whilst Molly and Will puppeteer. They followed a line along the floor of numbers and words starting from 1 through to 6, as the numbers got higher the puppets walk had to decline, from a steady walk through to a shuffle, as a stick and another stick was added to help aid the movement.

After that we moved onto the diagnoses section, and worked on the ensemble moving around the puppet with flying paper, this is to add to the confusion and to re-create the thoughts flying through the puppets mind, as he is told of his condition.

After lunch we were back to scrutinising the idea of the puppets imagination, what stimulates it? What launches the puppet into a new world that he has never experienced? The stimulant for the scratch performance we are moving towards is his glasses...

As the puppet struggles to pick up his glasses after dropping them, they become alive and the puppet is suddenly thrown into his imagination.

As we approached the end, we documented our progress with video footage, so that we can remember the detailed movement for next week. The following week, will be working on finishing the puppet, the fish and props.Picture


Day 10 - The return of Red Threaders

Gemma from Red Threaders came back to rehearse with us today, only this time, we were on the banks of the Thames in the Gallery of the Rose Theatre, Kingston. 

We started the session off by showing Gemma some scenes we had created in rehearsals yesterday:
  • The Dr
  • "Initial Symptoms Are..."
  • The Physio Visits - leading into "puppet's imagination" sequence
  • Dropping Glasses
  • 7 Levels of Irritation - The Fish and the Puppet reading his newspaper
Gemma was able to give us some feedback, showing us our strengths and weaknesses and advising us on how to start working in some narrative structure. One issue Gemma did raise was our use of text. We all agreed after a brief discussion that spoken text was jarring with the visuals we had been producing. As two very visual theatre companies, who use very little or no text at all, it didn't seem right that we used spoken word, however brief, to carry the story. From now on we will always try and create a visual way of getting what we want to say across to the audience sans text. 

During the morning session, we quickly came to the conclusion that for our scratch performances at the Blue Elephant and BAC's Freshly Scratched, we needed to give the audience a 10minute taster of a 40min show. With this in mind, we began to hone in on the scenes, developing and structuring them. After lunch, (which we enjoyed sitting in the sun by the river) we moved onto transitions between scenes and ordering everything to make perfect sense for our scratches. 

I think we were all pretty pleased with how today went. Now for some fine tuning and puppet constructing!

DAY 8 - Generating Material

Yesterday was a really positive day for generating material as we decided to spend the time trying everyone's practical ideas and letting them run. Today was the day that we had to try and extend those ideas and start to shape our narrative. With two scratch performances at the Blue Elephant Theatre and the BAC fast approaching, we decided to make a condensed narrative arch for what we will show then. 

When working on a section about the diagnosis and physical symptoms of MND, we seemed to carve a clear sequence based on our knowledge of how doctors speak and their mannerisms. This combined with our research of the possible physical symptoms of MND were brought together to create an abstract form of diagnosis. However, when we jumped into a different section, looking at the internal, the imagination, it was interesting to find that it was not so clear cut. 

This is mostly down to the fact that the imagination is something very specific and personal to each individual. Whilst doing research for CELL, we read that the imagination can only work in conjunction with memory; you can only imagine situations because they are partly based on reality. So for example, you have a memory of handling a tennis ball, you know what it feels like, how heavy it is etc. The imagination uses this knowledge and then extrapolates it into something out of the ordinary. The imagination is also based on a personal reaction to a situation, for example, if someone is talking to you and you don't want to listen, you might wish to escape and based on that, you might imagine floating out of the window and across the street where you can no longer hear them. 

It appears, at this stage at least, that the imagination is not as easy to conduct as a group and although has the potential to be fantastical and to allow the impossible, it has to come from an agreed place of reality. Tomorrow, we will try working more on the imagination and I wonder how slippery it would become. I anticipated that the imaginative sections would be the most free-flowing and creative but it turns out when devising, you should expect the unexpected and not anticipate!



Day 9 - A very Structured day

After our last rehearsal last week, myself and Gemma (Red Threaders) went to the pub and over a cheeky pint of cider, created a plan for the first rehearsal to kickstart the week. After an intense warm up of Hep, Rubber Chicken and a Penguin Race, each person in the group had to lead a one hour session. I was the first to kick it off. 

I really enjoy using Ariane Mnouchkine techniques at the beginning of a rehearsal process. So we began with a few simple games to focus. We then moved on to connecting with music. Over a few days, I had created a Spotify playlist called "CELL inspiration". From this, I began to play some of Yann Tiersan's music. The rest of the group began to move around the space, pausing when the music stopped, speeding up and slowing down with the tempo and contrasting sharp movements with smooth. Objects where introduced and the interaction with each other. Soon, short scenes began to develop and I quickly scribbled them all down whilst watching. 

After a short break, I then taped together each persons fingers and giving them tasks to perform within the same boundaries as the previous task. I got the idea from Professor Paul Allain who works lectures at the University of Kent. The aim, was for the performers to feel for themselves the restrictions that develop over the loss of control and movement with your body's muscles. As they performed their tasks, things became laboured and slower and I could see the frustration on their faces at times. What I did notice though, was how they quickly found another way of completing their task, it may not be how they naturally or originally would approach it, but they did always find a way. 

We moved onto to Molly's session. Here, we focused on what we had started the week before with Gemma, developing the Dr's character. Molly structured our movements, repeating motifs and adding in important pieces of text to create a scene that showed the symptoms of MND and a snapshot of a diagnosis. 

Will's session focused on the puppet and his character. We specifically looked at a little habit, where the puppet takes off his glasses to rub his eyes and then drops them and how this can be repeated to show a dengeneration. We also explored the deterioration of speech and voice qualities. Although we don't want to use speech, we are considering the use of breath and small noises. In order to protect our voices and to really understand the anatomical structure of the voice and what happens to it when you have MND, we are going to pose a list of questions to Little Cauliflower's associate artist, Voice Specialist, Ross Anderson-Doherty. 

Finally, Matt led his session, here we explored 7 levels of irritation where the puppet is at home, reading his newspaper but is distracted by his fish. With this exploration, Matt wanted to A) look at the domestic situation of our puppet and B) start thinking about the character of our puppet. With Molly on the right arm and Will on the head of the puppet, we developed Matt's excerise into a short scene, which we hope to show Gemma tomorrow. 

Overall, today was an exciting one. The Smoking Cauliflowers have started to create some material and we can't wait to start developing it! 

DAY 7 - The Royal Hospital of Neuro-Disability


Today, I went to meet Helen a specialist speech and language therapist at The Royal Hospital of Neuro-disability (RHND) in  Putney.

As I got off the bus and walked towards the hospital, I had no idea what I was about to encounter. Approaching the front gate this amazing building appears, RHND moved there in 1867.

After signing in, I'm collected by a colleague of Helen's and shown to a technology room, but on the way, I hear vibrant music and pass an open door which gave me enough time to look in, what was inside made me stop briefly, patients and their family, friends or partners dancing, the majority of the patients in wheelchairs but absolutely loving the class.

Finally I'm in a room waiting for Helen and there are 3 patients in this room, all of who have a neuro disability. The first man I see is incredibly playing scrabble using his eyes. The second also with his eyes writing an email, and the 3rd being set up with some new technological device that allows him to communicate using a sort of morse code.

Im then introduced to Helen and I explain the show and the idea and progress with my questions. After asking about how Helen got into speech therapy I ask her how she would diagnose someone with MND. After a short pause she answers, "it wouldn't be easy but that I would focus on the positives", which was an answer I didn't expect, after a person is diagnosed I can only imagine the thoughts that run through your head, but to have someone give you that news and then to focus on the positive, can only describe the great work that happens at the RHND.

Helen then put me in contact with a Doctor in London for some further research.

Thank you Helen for your time.


DAY 6 - Red Threaders

The sun was shining in lovely Canterbury today and "Smoking Cauliflower's" were joined by Gemma, one half of the dramaturgy company, Red Threaders. We began the rehearsal with catching Gemma up on what we had achieved in previous rehearsals and the workshop. 

After explaining our work on our puppet's character, Gemma used various methods in order to probe more information and opinion out of us. One method, was laying out small pieces of coloured card on the studio floor, each colour representing a different category. We had:
  • Relationships (from sister to physio)
  • Various items of medical equipment our man could potentially acquire over time
  • Numbers (representing levels of importance, pace etc) 
  • Emotions and feelings
These cards are to be used over the devising process as a way of maintaining structure and cohesiveness. We can remove as many cards as needed over time or add to the pile. Leaving this behind for future reference, we got up on our feet and started some physical activities to get the creative juices flowing. Using photographs as stimulus and character building, we began to get somewhere with the physicality of potential characters in the piece, one example, is a doctor. 
Overall, Gemma helped get us up and moving in the space, allowing us to think more about the physical without neglecting the importance of a clear narrative and through line. 


DAY 5 - The Workshop

So having decided previously we needed a puppet, to start to play with, myself (Matt), Will and Molly went to the Little Cauliflower Creek Creative Workshop in Faversham. The day before, me and Will had worked out the elbow and knee joints, and had started to make them.

We started the day with a few stop-off's to pick up some needed materials, to really get us going in the workshop. It was important as we started to make the puppet that we thought about every single body part in detail from the shoulder joints and the head mechanism to the minor movements of the foot and hands, this took time and careful planning, however after discussion a prototype was started. The head and body was then started to be carved from foam by Will, and Molly was fitting the upper arm and lower arms, and the upper leg and lower leg together. 

I started to work on the shoulder joint, trying a few methods to get the fluidity of movement that we wanted. Eventually both arms were fitted with shoulder joints. Molly and Will were then carving the hips, which will fit to the bottom of the main chest. I then carved the feet and hands which I then gave to Molly to carve in some detail. I was then working on the hip joints, and connecting the lower leg to the foot. Will was carving from wood, the head mechanism.

By the end of the day we had all the parts for the puppet, but ran out of time to connect it all together....Our puppet is nearly ready....



DAY 4 - Rehearsals with 2


With the need for a puppet to use becoming very apparent during Monday's rehearsal, Will and Matt spend the day at the LC workshop in Faversham, leaving myself and Carly to grapple with developing and building from yesterday. I think it's safe to say that the ideas for this show hav

e been very free flowing and the subject topic combined with the internal/external idea make a huge and brilliant creative springboard. As ever, it is how you turn those thoughts and images into something practical that an audience can watch.

We started the day by grouping together the visual ideas that came out of an exercise done during Monday's rehearsal. The first categories were, Specific and Non-Specific, the former being defined as a more rounded ideas that have a place within the character and narrative decisions already made and the latter being broader, more poetic notions. We then further grouped the Specific section and came out with four groups, Medical/Science based, Work/Routine based, Imagined situations and Emotions. 

The plan for the rest of the day was then to get these ideas on their feet and work out some things to try when Matt and Will came to join us for the last couple of hours of rehearsals. To say that this rehearsal was a frustrating one, is an understatement, both myself and Carly felt as though progress was slow and with only two bodies to work practically with, it was very difficult to create and realise the images we both had floating around in our heads. I came away from the rehearsal feeling rather dissatisfied with our progress, as is often the way when you don't quite managed to practically articulate your creative ideas. 

However, upon reflection, an interesting concept arose. In order to find a way forward with just the two of us and no puppet, we started to work with one of us temporarily taking the role of puppet. We started to play with speeding up the physical process of MND, so the puppet (Carly at this point) went from having full mobility whilst writing, to dropping the pen, the pad, her arm and eventually not even being able to hold up her own body. It was therefore my responsibility as an outside body to come in and protect and support Carly, for her to be able to write, to stay upright. This then provoked another potential avenue for exploration that the puppeteers are not the enablers because although they theoretically allow the puppet to move, they are working on the basis that the puppet's movement will physically degenerate and therefore, the enabler is the person from the outside, a contained forced that does not and cannot come from within the character. 


DAY 3 - Canterbury


It was our first day rehearsing down in Canterbury as a collaborative today. We spent most of the day discussing the background and personality of our protagonist.

'He' is a solitary man who's let life carry him along with no real ambitions until now. He has a chair, and possible a pet fish (a Blackmoore), oh, and he likes trains. We think he has a brother, but no wife. A job, but no career. And, most importantly, an extraordinary imagination. 

Questions we are hoping to answer this week are:
  • How does he react when he is first diagnosed with MND?
  • Who does he tell?
  • How does it change his outlook on life?


DAY 2 - First day of Rehearsals - Matt

Funny how on my way to rehearsal today I see the word "Puppets" mentioned in the newspaper 3 or 4 times. We find ourselves rehearsing in the airy Gallery space of The Rose Theatre, Kingston. The rehearsal starts with the sharing of scientific, factual and realities of information researched so far for Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

After a short discussion involving exciting ideas, impossible set ideas but the creative imaginations are flowing, we are up on our feet, playing with an interesting fact that some cases of MND start with people yawning, dropping things, tripping and struggling to pronounce some words. This was built into a physical score of us taking the sound and movement, quickly this evolved into an ensemble score which we all individually contributed. From dropping a pencil case right through to the person who dropped it receiving it back again, as if they had never dropped it.

Our central character, who currently stands as a puppet, sparked conversation into how we he would move, his characteristics and mannerisms. Carly was sat in a chair, and a series of strings were attached to her (almost) every limb. We then proceeded to experiment with the movement of dead weight human limbs, although our puppet probably won't be a marionette, it gave us the sense of man power that is needed to move the limbs, and for Carly to experience the feeling of having her limbs moved by other people...

This experiment threw into the pot of ideas many pondering questions...

As the MND starts to take over our puppet, does this require more puppeteers to support him, or does it take in the first place 2 or 3 puppeteers to manipulate him, and during the process puppeteers drop out, until he only needs 1 to manipulate him?



DAY 1 - Molly and Carly Research


DAY 1 - Molly and Carly Research
How strange that the very first thing I read on my first day of research for CELL was that MND affects men much more than women. How strange that from the very beginning our central character has always been a man, right from the very outside of shaping our idea. I wonder if the two are linked at all? I wanted to find out why MND is more prevalent in men but as I started digging around, it seems that this is one of the many unanswered questions about the disease. The simplest answer, is that they do not know. 

All this not knowing, this speculating, this guessing got me thinking about the more tangible side of MND so I started looking into the human qualities, the stuff that we and hopefully the audience, as people, will know, understand and recognise. I was perhaps a little naively shocked that when people contract MND there is no immediate sign that would raise alarm, nothing that is particularly out of the ordinary. I was searching through the MNDA website( and was reading personal accounts of people who have MND. Many of them commented that very mundane and human actions started to happen more frequently, for example, they started to drop things more often or they started to trip over their own feet. These actions, which would not be deemed as strange then build up but slowly, over a passage of time. For me, this was something I could immediately access as I have the experience of doing both of these actions. It hit me that if I started dropping things more often, I would probably think nothing of it at all, I would probably think I was having a bad day, I was tired, I was being clumsy. It is perhaps only in hindsight, only in warped, slowed down memory, with a diagnosis, with a label that one notices them...

For me, I felt I needed to understand the scientific explanation of MND before I started to research anything else. I knew the disease affected the nerves in the brain and the spinal cord, but how? So, I went to the Templeman Library on the University of Kent campus and started sifting through books trying to understand exactly what happens. To condense, the cell body of a motor neurone receives messages from another cell through its axon, (the signals or messages between neurones are called synapses) creating muscle movement. In a person with MND, the nerves become damaged, meaning their muscle control weakens and the muscle itself wastes away. 

"The muscles first affected tend to be those in the hands, feet or mouth and throat..." (

When reading further about the symptoms on MND, I got stuck on changes in speech. Speech errors such as malapropisms (e.g. a spoonerism - You have hissed all of my mystery lectures) and tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon become more prevalent, some consonants become harder to say (p, b, t, d, k and g), the voice begins to sound hoarse, low pitched and monotonous. In The Student's Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience, Jamie Ward explains: "Speech production normally only exists when someone else is around to engage in the complementary process of speech recognition." This made me think a lot about our main character. They will have to have someone else to engage with through speech in order for us to show its decline, whether that be directly at the audience or with another character on stage is something for us to look at in rehearsals (we are all very unsure about a speaking puppet though...)

After the science reading, I began to think of our creative process. Discovering these tips from Doctors for MND patients, I thought they would help us as a collaborative company throughout the rehearsal process, giving us something to 'check in on': 
  • Recognise what was and what is now
  • Remain involved in the world around you
  • Retaining a sense of humour is life-enhancing


BAC Next Thursday

NEWS UPDATE - get your diaries out!

On the 29th March (next Thursday) Smoking Apples will be taking part in Freshly Scratched, an evening of scratch performances under the theme of Theatre and Puppets. Organised by the BAC in association with Puppet Centre Trust.

Its Pay What You Can, so please come along, and pay what you can. Have a look at the BAC website for more info.

Best wishes,

Russet x


Animate Kingston and The Brits

We are now in full swing with Animate festival, a wonderful new cheeky little festival set in the beautiful Kingston Upon Thames. We have been performing every Monday and Thursday evening as part of Animate Kingston but more on that later.


As you know Smoking Apples set off to Prague at the beginning of February to perform the scratch of our new show The Wordcatcher and to run a workshop with Czech residents. We successfully taught some basic puppetry skills to a very enthusiastic and multi-national group, we had Czech participants as well as American, English and Scottish expats now living in Prague. All in all it turned out to be a very enjoyable workshop. The company who invited us to perform - the Prague Film and Theater Center - are keen to get us into the British Language Schools in Prague to run some more workshops and we are very excited about the opportunity of returning.


Personally I will be heading over to Prague on the 15th April for 5 weeks of fun in Czech lands. I hope to improve our connections in the Czech Republic and will be auditioning to work with the lovely Blood, Love and Rhetoric Theatre. Jonagold and Golden D. will be joining me for a week or so to see what we can do.


Back in England we have been thoroughly enjoying ourselves by building a plane, making ridiculous videos and writing some short scenes set in the First World War, this is all in aid of Animate Festival. Today we took part in the Sopwith Extravaganza - an afternoon of fun on the lawn outside All Saints Church. Smoking Apples and Dumbshow Theatre reunited in a paper plane throwing competition, war time sing-along, dancing on the lawn, and finally unveiling the beautiful and magnificent Sopwith Camel. An excellent model built by Jonagold who has even put a video of the plane's creation on you tube, why not have a look.


The festival will continue over the next 3 weeks so if you find yourself anywhere near Kingston do look out for us, and don't be shy to say hello. For those of you who have already encountered us in our excellent costumes, towards the end of the festival some of those lovely characters will return. Annie, Hazel, Lieutenant Banbury, and perhaps the lovely Annabel will appear.


Finally, any music lovers may have noticed Kate Bush's nomination on the Brit Awards. What an honour to have worked with such a talented woman, and what a joy to see a clip of our video on national television, to catch our 2 seconds of fame again have a look at this clip.

Please keep looking at the website for further updates, and don't hesitate to get in touch with any queries, you'll find an email us form here.


All the best,




Kate Bush, Animate and Prague


Well this is all very exciting! Kate Bush has put the music video we worked on up on the site. Please take a look and let us know what you think, its the opening video on or you can find it on youtube here. There is some great feedback on the page!

Also at the moment we are working on some pieces for Animate Festival in Kingston upon Thames, here is a video of Matt (Jonagold) hard at work, posted on our facebook page. (Surprise ending - it even surprised me!)

This week we are also preparing for a weeks trip to Prague where we will be meeting with such wonderful companies as Buchty a Loutky, and Blood, Love and Rhetoric theatre, and also Prague Film and Theater Center. We will be performing our 20 minute scratch titled The Wordcatcher which some of you may have caught at the Lyric Hammersmith last week in association with PFTC.

That is all for now, as I'm sure you will agree with have been busy, but we are always glad to hear from you, so please do drop us an email or join our mailing list.

Best wishes,



Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Smoking Apples.

Just before the year ended ITV's Ad of the year featured the Weetabix advert at Number 15 (about 12 mins in) including puppetry from the lovely Golden Delicious and Jonagold and it's already looking to be a very exciting new year for the Apples.

On the 20th January Smoking Apples have been asked to take part in a scratch night at the Lyric Hammersmith in association with their main feature from Frantic Assembly. We are very excited indeed to be performing at the Lyric and hope to see some of you there as we test out some new material.

When we are not preparing for the 20th January we will be rehearsing for Animate Festival in Kingston Upon Thames. This festival is going to take place over 6 weeks, starting in mid February and will include lots of little performances from a great collection of artists. There will be 2 main weekends in the festival where all the company's and their work will come together and perform in the Market Square. Smoking Apples are going to be collaborating with Dumbshow again and we are really excited about it after having so much fun and success with Seething Wells and The Defeat of King Cholera

Smoking Apples will be making some further contacts with our friends in Prague, with the help of Babicka Jablko. Babicka (Johana) is our newest recruit and we look forward to collaborating with her on some projects and performances in Prague and the UK and so we have arranged to pay her a visit and get the ball rolling. Babicka trained with the company both in the UK and in the Czech Republic as our two colleges do an exchange of students and she has been an inspiration throughout our friendship. By the way, Babicka Jablko means Granny Apple because when asked her favourite kind of apple Johana said, 'The one's from my Granny's house'.

We also hope to run some more workshops and have got lots of fingers in lots of (apple) pies, so we will keep updating you with news and stupid jokes. Speaking of stupid jokes, if you haven't seen it already, check out our puppet skills in the latest advert, and listen out for my awful joke in Behind The Scenes.

For now, on behalf of the fruit bowl I'd like to wish you a very happy new year,

Best wishes,


Noah on Holiday

Dear all,

Another little update for you, the wonderful Matt has been hard at work directing and editing a short film of our puppet Noah. Please have a look at Noah on Holiday and do leave us some feedback, or email Matt at

Noah is the star of our first performance Whispers from a Wandering Tent, and there are some more photos on our Gallery page form this performance.

I hope you are all enjoying your holidays, or the season at least, if you are busy at work.


Russet advert is now live on youtube!

Very excited, please check out the advert here and the making of video here to see our interviews!

Apart from that Merry Christmas one and all.


Website updating and visiting Prague


Russet (Hattie) updating you tonight.

So as you may have noticed we have been making some well needed changes to our website. Look out for the new photos from this years performances of Seemingly Invisible and The Defeat of King Cholera.

Also if you have a look at The Apples you can have a look at some of the other wonderful artists we have been working with. Our most recent addition to the page is Johana Vanousova, our Czech correspondent. As you may have noticed Smoking Apples have studied in Prague and performed in that beautiful city a few times. We like to try and keep our connections going and as such I am on a short trip to Prague at the moment.

We plan to return to Prague as a company in early February to set up some meetings and see if we can perform in Czech Republic as well as performing in the UK. Today I bumped into an English performer who lives and works in Prague, he was in a production we saw when we first visited the country, I hope this is a good omen for our plans for 2012.

The site is not quite finished yet, but I hope you are enjoying the new images and information.

Best wishes,


Smoking Apples

Currently updating the website with Ben & Jerry's helping us!

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