Smoking Apples - Keeping Puppetry Afloat

Keeping Puppetry Afloat

In Our Hands is the tale of Alf, a trawler fisherman struggling to stay afloat (excuse the pun) in his industry whilst trying to reconcile his relationship with his son Ben who works in London. Including an incredible journey of one resilient seagull trying desperately to get food, this show tackles themes of family, grief, perseverance and conservation. Already this year we've tackled the great beast that is Edinburgh Fringe Festival and now we’re in the middle of our first UK tour.

We’ve been on a really long journey with this show. It’s been nearly two and a half years since we started making it and its nice to finally be travelling around, showing the work to new audiences, it is also lovely to relax (a bit) and enjoy actually performing it. And its only when this process starts that you begin to really appreciate how it affects audiences and also appreciate the journey the piece has been on in order to get where it is now.

Although the effect that the show has on audiences is really interesting, for me, personally, I find that how much the audience has an effect on us to be something that captures my attention more. The performance is set and scripted so the essence of the show never truly changes, however each audience brings with them their own set of cultures and experiences and preconceptions of the show before even watching it. This atmosphere is tangible and this becomes an exchange between the two of us. Sure, they are bound to react similarly in key moments, however, an audience watching in London will engage with the show in a different way to an audience from Falmouth or Margate or any of the other coastal towns and cities we have and will be travelling to. The reaction from coastal towns so far has been brilliant as many of them have an in-depth and sometimes first hand understanding of the difficulties the trawler industry, and the people working in it, face. They’re often very vocal in their appreciation of how delicately we have handled the dense subject matter. In cities that are in-land, the level of understanding can often be very similar to our own when we first started on this project, led by the media and distant. These types of audiences generally come and see our work because they have an interest in theatre, as opposed to the subject matter. The reaction, however, has been equally positive as our aim was always to create a show that was not didactic but could educate and inform, as well as being entertaining. The feedback from our in-land audiences has been great because it’s opened up some new ideas of fishing and how everyone, even those that don’t live by the sea, can be responsible for our oceans.

Puppetry, however, is something that sits between the two and both coastal and city audiences are sometimes caught off-guard. Some people are not sure what to make of it and come out of curiosity. A very small proportion of our touring audiences actually come and see In Our Hands because it’s puppetry. This is one of the reasons why I love bringing contemporary puppetry to new audiences because it surprises them and engages them and this is why we’ll keep working hard to bring puppetry to a wider audience.

One of the more unusual choices in In Our Hands was to use only a head and a hand to portray the two human puppets. As a puppeteer one of the key questions we have to ask is whether the audiences believe what we are showing them and if they cannot suspend their disbelief then why so? Why we decided to use such a simplified anatomy is one of the most frequent questions we get asked by audiences and it stems from the time we spent in Cornwall developing the show. The puppetry in this show was greatly influenced by the trawler fishing industry and the physicality of the fishermen themselves. We focussed heavily on the economy of movement because it became apparent during our time spent with the trawler men that no superfluous movement was used. If the wheel needed adjusting it would be adjusted simply and efficiently, watching them work was like watching a well-oiled machine operate. Never out of sync, working away silently or with using the least amount of effort possible. This has translated over to the way we designed the puppets. We wanted to strip away as much as possible and leave only the most essential parts of the puppet. The challenge was to puppeteer in such a way that the audience filled in the gaps. This style has proved quite effective amongst audiences and we have so far had a great response.

We are really looking forward to the rest of the tour. We will be travelling to a lot to both city and coastal towns and I’m particularly excited to see how they will engage with the show. It’s a pleasure to have made a show that inspires conversation and brings puppetry to new audiences.

Written by Luke Breen, Associate Artist and Performer with Smoking Apples.


In Our Hands is touring the UK this Autumn. For dates, times and tickets, please visit


'This is one of the reasons why I love bringing contemporary puppetry to new audiences because it surprises them and engages them and this is why we’ll keep working hard to bring puppetry to a wider audience.'

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