Review: Theatre That is Not Just In Our Hands But in Our Imaginations
Was it my imagination or did I catch a whiff of salty air as I walked into the auditorium?
When theatre promises to be dynamic all sorts of things strange can happen. And In Our Hands promises a combination of live acting and puppetry; it bills itself as making a difficult subject matter accessible; it. The production, based on the true story of Stefan Glinski a fisherman who strode successfully to change our consumption habits, does not have (at least at first glance) the most promising subject material. If you think the fishing industry does not make for interesting drama, think again: man not only contends against nature but he (or she) contends against big business and their own demons.
In Our Hands requires huge reserves of stamina and versatility from its actors and puppeteers. There is no deny that it is a visual tour de force. It is not just the story of one fisherman but it explains, albeit with simple demonstrations, the complete process of the fishing industry from trawling to dining; simple props double, then triple as anything from office furniture to market stalls; each of the players is required to perform multiple roles as well as command their various puppets.
The production, co-devised by its five performers, is performed without dialogue - the plot is driven not on by radio broadcast and answer machine messages - the only words we hear; emotions are expressed through grunts, murmurs and facial expressions rather than speech. There is something of a silent movie feel about it, accentuated by the excellent and evocative score.
My question is, is it worth it? Put another way, could the story be better told in a more traditional format? Innovation for innovation’s sake - if it comes at the expense of human understanding - is surely just vanity. There is a danger that we turn complex emotional (and, in this instance) economic forces into crude simplicities.
Yet if we accept that complexity if not a vice, then we might accept that simplicity also holds virtue as well. It is a woods and trees things. By stripping the story bare, the production allows the audience to see its intricacy. Its innovation allows its to go further than a more traditional format would. It becomes honest.
In Our Hands yearns - even begs - for its audience to connect emotionally with its protagonist. Yet, despite being a widower, Alf is hard to like. He drinks too much. His debts have piled up and he mainly ignores them, while refusing to consider selling his quota to solve his financial problems. He has allowed his son’s refusal to join the family business to become a block in their relationship. An olive branch is refused.
Yet just when I began to despair In Our Hands became something heart-warming. Maybe Alf relented. Or maybe it was I who relented. Either way the production discovered a humanity which was universal and the play gains a cohesion it previously lacked. Yes, I admit it: I wanted Alf and his son to succeed. We all project and whether we want Alf to turn his fortunes around for him or for us does not matter.
The show ends as Alf, guided as ever by his puppeteers, changes his answer phone message to one which acknowledges his and his son’s reconciliation. So simple. So effective. The reward is an emotional dividend for the production’s dynamism.
The danger of innovation is that it creates distance; its flipside is that, when it succeeds, its rewards are greater. The fractured relationship between Alf and his son becomes the play’s central pillar as each begins to appreciate the other. Its fault lies in its uneven structure. But even here to have explored how Alf wins through, rather than the fact itself that he does, would have detracted from the emotional connection for which the show strives.
The beauty of In Our Hands lives in its challenge. We are challenged - and surely that is what theatre should be about - not only to overcome our prejudices, but also to think for ourselves. It is in our hands and in our minds.
Maybe the tang of the sea I scented when I sat down was just because this was a fresh evening in Falmouth. However, maybe I’ll choose to believe that it was my imagination.
In Our Hands is currently touring.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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