CELL is the story of Ted who, after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, goes on a trip of a lifetime with his pet fish. Humorous, heart-warming and uplifting, CELL uses puppetry, visual theatre and an original score to explore a man's loss of movement through this degenerative disease.
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a
script or an object?
Molly: As two puppetry companies, we wanted to create a show which challenged our skills as puppeteers. Our basic seedling of an idea was a man, going on a journey and overcoming an obstacle - very vague and not very special! We began to think about what the obstacle could be leading us to explore medical diseases.
Will: Initially, we explored Alzheimers but struggled to portray this visually - hugely important in puppetry. Movement often sustains the illusion of life for the audience so it's a vital component. So, we began to explore Motor Neurone Disease which completely affects the body. This created a brilliant but huge challenge for us; MND causes degeneration of mobility so it was fascinating to work with a puppet losing it's animation without losing the audience's belief that it still lived. We also have a personal connection to as both my and another member of the cast's Grandad died from MND.
Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Molly: As the largest arts festival in the world it provides the ultimate platform to show your work on. There is no other place that brings together so many artists, styles, programmers and venues. The opportunity to get your work seen by all of those people, create momentum and further the reputation of your company are driving forces behind our trip to Edinburgh. Both companies have performed at the Fringe before but there's been a few years since then. This year, we're raring to go.
What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Molly: Although MND is a key factor in the narrative, it was never our intention to make an issue based show, the story is still very human and about how our central character Ted lives his life. It's very human. Whilst researching for CELL, the overwhelming emotion we noticed meeting people who have MND was positivity and the show reflects that. It is humorous, uplifting and shows Ted living his life to the full.
Will:The story is told in a visceral way, using striking shadow puppetry and a stunning original score, alongside our 4’ puppet Ted. It takes the audience on his journey interrailing across Europe with his pet fish, as he experiences a world outside of his comfort zone; from Lille to Venice, Gondolas to stale croissants, Bill Bryson to the Berlin Cinema, the audiences are taken on his final adventure.
The Dramaturgy Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Will: Dramaturgy is hugely important in our work. For CELL, we worked with Gemma from Red Threaders Dramaturgy. All three cast members created, produce and perform in the show. Therefore, it was essential for us to have someone as an outside eye of who could see the piece as a whole.
What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
Molly: As a puppetry company, a lot of our inspiration comes from visual sources. This can be films, photos, materials, music or people watching in Waterloo station. We work a lot with an adapted Japanese style of puppetry called Bunraku. We also use a lot of shadow puppetry, which originates from Asia but again, we’ve adapted the style to suit our own work. Overall, we work with puppetry in a fairly modern way, incorporating a strong movement style across our pieces and we often have actors alongside puppet characters. I do not think we are a very ‘traditional’ puppetry company but our practice is certainly informed by those who have gone before .
Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
Molly: CELL was a collaborative process between two companies. Although we don't always collaborate with other companies like this, devising as an ensemble is characteristic of our creative process. We are a very practical company and tend to work physically for a couple of days to explore new ideas and usually one of those will strike a chord and then we're off. Our processes are very stop/start, going between working on creative content for the show and then pausing to build the set/puppets/props we need to bring an idea to life. There is sometimes even a make corner in our rehearsal room so that both things can happen at the same time.
What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Will: Working with puppetry can be tricky as there is an immediate gap caused. Not only do the audience have to believe in the story you are telling (as with any other show), they also have to accept that there is an object through with you are projecting that story. This is really important and something that we have tested out at regular intervals throughout the creation of CELL.
This interview was conducted with Molly Freeman, co-artistic director of Smoking Apples and William Aubrey Jones (Artistic Director, Dogfish) who are bringing CELL to Underbelly Cowgate this August.
This show is a new collaboration between two celebrated puppetry companies, Smoking Apples and Dogfish. Smoking Apples are acquiring a reputation for re-defining puppetry and visual theatre, creating accessible, enjoyable shows about challenging subject matter. Dogfish, fronted by William Aubrey Jones (former co-artistic director of Edinburgh Fringe Festival favourites and co-devisors, Little Cauliflower) create innovative, design led, visual theatre.
There has been a recent surge in awareness of MND over the last few years with the Ice Bucket Challenge and the release of the film, The Theory of Everything. MND is very high in the public interest currently and although CELL is a narrative story of one man's final journey, we have used puppetry and visual theatre to highlight the physical and emotional strain of the disease.
In addition to the above, we also have a personal connection to this story with two member's of the cast losing family members to MND.