It's not often that I walk out of a theatre baffled, perplexed and a little angry, but that's how I felt when I left Smoking Apples' new production, The Wordcatcher.
Was I angry at myself for not 'getting it', or at them for 'not letting me get it'? Having had a good ponder, I'm still none the wiser.
Billed as a mix of puppetry, live music, storytelling and physical theatre with a PG certificate, I'm just not sure what audience this was aimed at – children, adults, or both – or what it was trying to say.
Molly Freeman plays Emma, a young woman who has lost the ability to speak although she loves books and always has her nose in one. She stumbles across George (Matt Lloyd), a shy boy who can't read but loves numbers, and a nameless busker (Hattie Thomas), a woman of few words who lets her sax do most of the speaking for her.
These three interact together, often through stylised movement, with two puppets: there's a tiny Emma, kitted out in big Emma's clothes and with similar hair, and an annoying crow who just seems to flutter and peck around and adds nothing to anything. With no plot as such, and a badly looped soundtrack, they gesture, talk and play music, but with no discernible meaning.
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not against non-linear plotted pieces at all and love a bit of experimental theatre, but it has to leave you feeling something other than just puzzled and faintly annoyed.
I 'got' that it was a very gentle, near comatose love story between bookish Emma and autistic George, and that all three were strangers who had difficulty connecting with other people. I didn't get the presence of the puppets (what did tiny Emma bring to the piece, and that bird..?) or the significance of Emma's sudden rushed and desperate outpouring of words towards the end. Had they been locked away all the time in the suitcase she clutches to her breast, and was it meeting George that had allowed them to come tumbling out at last?
When I saw this piece at the Warren, there were only adults in the audience and I do wonder if it would have held a young child's attention or not. I suspect not.