Theatre company Smoking Apples has since its inception used puppets and physical theatre to create imaginative labours of love. Often the protagonists are very ‘ordinary’, but far from lacking interest, the troupe’s attention to detail imparts an inexhaustible fascination in the minutiae of life. They also sometimes deal with hard-to-digest subject matter – ambitious to do using conventional means, but using puppetry, seldom attempted.
In Flux, we meet Kate, a 30-something physicist in 1984, working on energy yields of radioactive elements and isotopes. As a woman working in such a male-dominated field, Kate doesn’t have the easiest time from her peers. When they are not asking her out on a daily basis, they are (unbeknownst to her) stealing her research.
The creatives involved in the show – Molly Freeman, Hattie Thomas, Matt Lloyd and Anne Conde – each control a different aspect of Kate’s movement or the physical environment that ‘she’ resides in. The performers clearly enjoy bringing ‘Kate’ to life and the show is littered with subtle references from the mid-80s. And if one was ever in doubt about what era the play is set, the multi-purpose block-like scenery (when it is lit up in specific ways) is evocative of periodic tables, Tetris games or Rubik’s cubes.
Beyond the aesthetics, the real success of the show is the realisation of a ‘flesh and blood’ character who is both a scientist and a woman, in non-exclusive terms. In its own way, ‘Kate’ would fit in in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls – ambitious in terms of what she tries to accomplish, but because of her sense of fair play and politness, threatens to be eclipsed and overlooked by the status quo like so many other women before her…
© Michael Davis 2019
Flux ran at Greenwich Theatre in June. It concludes its Spring Tour in Manchester on Friday 21 June, 8pm, The Lowry, Salford and Saturday 22 June, 7.30pm The Kirkgate Centre, Cockermouth.