Q&A: Puppet company Smoking Apples on Flux
'It's about an everyday person who just happens to be a genius'
Award-winning puppet company Smoking Apples are preparing to debut their new show Flux at Shoreditch Town Hall. So we caught up with members Molly Freeman, Hattie Thomas and Matt Lloyd to find out more about the production, and their innovative use of puppetry.
What is Flux about?
Molly: Flux is about Kate, who is a 30-something nuclear physicist who is struggling to be seen and heard in her workplace. It's about her finding her voice and standing up for what she believes in, and also fighting to really shine in a world dominated by men.
Hattie: Even though it's set in the 1980s and in the world of science, Kate's story is one that any one in any job in any era could relate to. It's about issues we all have to deal with.
Matt: Flux tells the story of an everyday person who just happens to be a genius. It's a very cinematic production. We're merging three different styles - live action, bunraku puppetry and shadow puppetry. We also have this supercool set that moves around like tetris blocks.
Why did you feel this story fitted your style of theatre?
Molly: At Smoking Apples we tend to work with very human puppets. People often ask why we don't just have an actor, but for us having a puppet really magnifies the action. For example Kate is struggling to find her way as a woman, so when we control and manipulate her it provides a neat parallel with her character's objectification.
Hattie: We primarily make puppet shows for adult audiences. That's not because of anything explicit in the content, but because we deal with subject matters that can be difficult to digest. We like focussing on issues that are challenging but also give the audience something new to learn. So nuclear physics seemed a perfect fit.
Matt: We like a challenge and Flux certainly gave us that. Kate is a 5' 9" puppet who has gone through four different prototypes. She needs three people to operate, who all need to do individual things while also working as a team and telling a story.
The show is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage. Why was that important?
Matt: Our previous two shows (Cell and In Our Hands) both had male protagonists. This wasn't a conscious decision but it felt important to put a woman at the centre of our new show, especially in light of this year's centenary.
Hattie: For me it's been really interesting to focus on a female character who is roughly the same age as me. Even though she's living in a previous era she still has so many of the problems that women of our generation face. It's so important to mark this anniversary because even though women do have the vote, society is still not equal.
Molly: During our research we found that even today there is a huge disparity between the number of women and men working in physics. And although attitudes have shifted slightly, some of the same problems are still around. There's a common story whereby a woman discovers something incredible and gets undercut by a male colleague. I was shocked to find out that is still happening in 2018. It's important we keep telling stories like this.
Flux is at Shoreditch Town Hall on 1 & 2 November, the Swansea Science Festival on 8 November and the Old Fire Station, Oxford on 28 November. For more info click here