Devised by the company (Molly Freeman, Hattie Thomas, Matthew Lloyd and Anne Conde) with dramaturgy by Clancy Flynn and Gemma Williams
Smoking Apples
Greenwich Theatre

Flux Credit: Richard Davenport
Anne Conde, Hattie Thomas, Molly Freeman Credit: Richard Davenport

Puppetry and visual theatre company Smoking Apples' current show, Flux, is inspired by the life of Lise Meitner.

One of the 20th century's preeminent women scientists, Meitner's work on nuclear fission in the 1930s was overlooked by the establishment in favour of the contribution made by a male colleague who walked away with the Nobel Prize.

Like her, the play's heroine, Kate, is a physicist and, in setting the action in the early 1980s, she is also a young woman working in a male-dominated industry.

With Kate experiencing much the same sort of treatment as Meitner, it illustrates that things had not moved on much in the 50 years that separated the women's discoveries, but between the lines it begs the question whether things have changed for women in the subsequent near half century as well.

The plot of Flux would fit in a thimble and it is not that which is interesting about the play. What entertains and holds our attention is its execution. What appeals is its charm.

Kate is portrayed by a full-sized puppet expertly handled by Hattie Thomas, Molly Freeman and Anne Conde, endowing her with fine motor skills.

Although dedicated to her work, Kate finds a love interest. He also takes the form of a puppet—complete with 1980s George Michael hair do—proficiently handled by Matthew Lloyd, when he is not playing Kate's slimy boss.

Largely without dialogue, the "um", "er", "ah" vocalisations are overused and possibly even unnecessary given the delightful and detailed characterisations provided by the company's adroit manipulation of the puppets. Less of the "ums" and more of the excellent score by award-winning composer Jon Ouin would have been fine with me.

Moving Kate between locations are scenes using shadow puppets (illustrations by Lydia Markham) which tend to hold up the pace of what is otherwise peppy staging, exploiting the mobility of the set (designed by Lloyd and Thomas who also designed the puppets with design consultant Sam Wyer).

It is a fabulous, Tetris-inspired modular creation that the cast move about with an easy flow verging on choreography, extracting props from secret compartments.

All in white, the sections separate and interlock providing the perfect backdrop for Sherry Coenen's neon coloured lighting design which, like Ouin's music, resonates the '80s.

Perhaps because I am a contemporary of the fictional Kate, I warmed easily to the charms of Flux but I suspect that the inventive and entertaining delivery is what really made it irresistible.

The tour of Flux continues to The Lowry Salford and The Kirkgate Centre Cockermouth.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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