Award winning Smoking Apples produce high quality theatre, that more often than not, works with difficult, hard-to-digest subject matter. Using puppetry and visual theatre, the company create innovative shows, making their subjects enjoyable and accessible for audiences. They combine puppets, live actors and an identifiable and unique style of movement.
Molly trained alongside the other Apples at Rose Bruford on the European Theatre Arts Course. She wholeheartedly blames her time studying abroad with them, in Prague (now her favourite place in the whole world), for introducing her to the three loves of her life, Puppetry, Czech Beer and travelling. With a keen interest in movement, Molly is fascinated with the anatomy of the body, both in performer and puppet, and this combined with a cracking story is the type of theatre she both likes to see and make. She also freelances as a puppet director/consultant, higher education facilitator and as a creative project manager.
Like all of the apples, Matt also trained at Rose Bruford and co-founded Smoking Apples in 2010. Matt comes from a background in comedy, performing arts and dance (yep that’s right dancing) at Homewood school. He enjoys working with puppets and particularly the relationship between the puppet and audience, engaging the audience’s focus into wholeheartedly believing in essentially… an inanimate object, (regardless of whether the puppet is 4 inches tall or 16 foot). Alongside Smoking Apples, Matt works as a freelance Puppet Maker, set builder and general DIY making.
Hattie is a musician and performer who studied puppetry and alternative theatre in Prague as part of her degree at Rose Bruford College. Having loved puppetry and art from a young age Hattie enjoys both making and operating puppets with Smoking Apples, she enjoys the challenge of bringing inanimate objects to life in a way that is engaging and relatable for audiences. Alongside devising and directing theatre, Hattie makes puppets and props for other companies, as well as designing print and marketing images, clients include Cornerstone, Didcot and Unexpected Places, Southampton, Nabakov, London. Hattie also teaches drama and puppetry to various ages and abilities, specialising in engaging people living with dementia.
We (Molly, Matt and Hattie) started our love affair with puppetry (and each other) when we studied together in Prague at DAMU on the Puppetry and Alternative Theatre course. We met Aimee (the year above us at Bruford) at an audition to puppeteer for Kinetika and got on so well in and out of the rehearsal room that we created Smoking Apples Theatre Company. In 2009, we were still studying for our degrees in European Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford College but enjoyed a break from studying whilst working with Kinetika throughout the summer and at the occasional weekend event.
We created our first original production Whispers from a Wandering Tent for Rose Bruford Symposium week, which we toured throughout the Summer at outdoor events and venues. Shortly after this, we began to work together on a 20 minute performance called Seemingly Invisible for Molly’s final year degree show. The piece, which features our puppet ‘Harry’ as a magical force bringing unlikely characters together, went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival the same August. It had such positive responses we decided to develop it into a full length piece of fringe performance after graduating.
2011 saw us head back to the Motherland (Prague), performing Seemingly Invisible at the Prague Fringe Festival, IYAF and the Blue Elephant Theatre. We did our final performance of this show, with Aimee Holmes, in Wiltshire before deciding to part ways creatively. Don’t worry though, she’s still one of our bestest pals and will always be an apple at heart.
We began working with the International Youth Arts Festival (IYAF) as puppetry directors for From Amazon, which was performed for HRH The Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward. We were then invited to join the Creative Youth Creative Talent program, which gives young companies an opportunity to perform and develop their work. Late in 2011, Community Brain invited us and fellow Creative Talent company Dumbshow to create a Heritage Lottery funded, site-specific show, Seething Wells and The Death of King Cholera.
We also started to work behind the camera, puppeteering in TV Adverts for Weetabix and Webuyanycar.com. Most excitingly in November 2011 we worked on and puppeteered on Eider Falls at Lake Tahoe – a beautiful music video for Kate Bush using shadow puppetry.
During 2012 we took part in Animate Festival, an outdoor festival, in association with IYAF and also puppeteered for the Queen on Blackfriars Bridge at the Jubilee parade. It rained and we got soaked but hey ho, Rule Britannia and all that!
We started working on The Wordcatcher scratching the show at The Lyric Hammersmith and Battersea Arts Centre before performing the full show at IYAF and The Blue Elephant. Following the 2012 Olympics, we lead the medal winners across London with giant Lion puppets in Our Greatest Team Parade (which was awesome).
Later in the year, we made A Christmas Carol in collaboration with Samuel Wyer and Petersham Road, a promenade and immersive show that sold out for December. It was Christmassy, there was mulled wine, we went to work in a beautiful house every day – happy days.
Towards the end of 2012, we met with Little Cauliflower and submitted our very first Arts Council application to start a research and development project… CELL.
From incurable diseases and new collaborations, to mythical creatures and fairy tales, 2013 was a year of real change for us. We received our first round of funding from Arts Council England for CELL, a new collaboration with Little Cauliflower exploring the story of one man and his fight with Motor Neurone Disease.
In June, we worked with the BFI on a residency for Year 9 Lambeth students, helping them to design, make and operate puppets for a multimedia, collaborative performance of Hansel and Gretel. This was followed by our first project with Global Arts Kingston and the local Tamil School bringing their Traditional Tales to life for a performance at Kingston Connections 2013.
August transported us to Wilderness Festival, to live in the woods all Summer, for a huge promenade production of Jabberwocky, in collaboration with Petersham Road, Secret Productions and designer Sam Wyer.
Suspense Festival was the highlight of our Autumn season, we performed The Wordcatcher in this highly acclaimed, biennial, London Puppetry Festival. To finish off the year, we rejoined Petersham Road for Fezziwig’s Christmas Cracker at the Charles Dickens Museum for which we created a 20 minute rolling piece about Scrooge’s murky past, using storytelling and shadow puppetry.
2014 went out with a bang and some very tired but content Apples! Our year started with the premiere of CELL at the Little Angel Theatre where we played to sold out audiences at their FIRSTS Festival. We then took the show to Greenwich Theatre and Incoming Festival and CELL was nominated for a Peter Brook Award 2014.
In August we skipped off to some festivals, taking a giant UV grasshopper to the Merry Prankster’s Ball at Wilderness and our 10 foot goddess Xalia to Shambala.
Our education and outreach work reached a peak with puppetry workshops at an all time high and we started teaching a puppetry module at Buckinghamshire New University.
Autumn brought the birth of our new show, In Our Hands. Luke and George joined the team and after a 3 month R&D, we won Best Work In Progress at Mimetic Festival. To close the year we returned to the Charles Dickens Museum where we performed an original family Christmas show throughout December and got fat on mince pies. (Note to selves: MUST NOT EAT SHOW PROPS)
2015 shaped up to be an absolute corker! We chucked ourselves in at the deep end, kicking things off with a Spring UK tour of CELL which was co-produced by house. We then took Ted on another adventure in August to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe where he played for the whole month, received a string of five star reviews, award nominations and sold out audiences. Chuffed doesn’t even cover it.
Over in camp Alf, we were hugely privileged to have Arts Council England support our premiere stage of development for In Our Hands, allowing us to finish the show and undertake a series of regional showcases in London (sold out), Folkestone, Plymouth and Falmouth. It was a relief that at least half of these locations were by the sea so our rehearsal diet of pasties and fish and chips (sustainably caught of course) may continue. And also to get city audience and coastal audience perspectives on the show…
We were also back at Buckinghamshire New University in the Spring, teaching the second year module on puppetry and started running Spectrum Youth Theatre at the Little Angel Theatre in the Autumn. SYT is a puppetry youth theatre specifically for young people with high functioning autism and Aspergers.
We began the year by completing the SYT project with a puppetry piece inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in March. Alongside this, Matt was designing and making the set and puppet for Intrepid Ensemble’s Jellyfish.
In the middle of March we started our second tour of CELL funded again by Arts Council England, it was great to get Ted out on the road again, especially for our visit to Germany for Recklinghausen Fringe Festival. We were also delighted to be accepted onto the Oxford Playhouse’s Evolve Programme, providing a year of support and mentoring, and as we decided to start an entirely new show, it was a brilliant time to have them on board. Funded by Arts Council England, we began working on Flux, with our first female lead character and a predominantly female cast.
In the summer our lovely fisherman Alf had some work to do, we took In Our Hands to the Edinburgh Fringe and got a string of 4 and 5 star reviews, Matt was even interviewed for a feature in the Scottish Times. After a short break we toured the show to 18 venues across England, with 5 post show talks, 3 workshops and 20 shows in total. To round off the year we took our two big outdoor puppets, Xalia and Atom, to help with the Christmas Lights switch on in Oxford, it was a really great end to a busy year, working with some of our lovely associate artists and a handful of volunteers.
Another busy year, we started with our second tour of In Our Hands, including performing at DRAK Theatre in the Czech Republic, it was great to return here with our biggest show to date. In between tour dates, we continued to develop our new show, Flux, with support from Shoreditch Town Hall. We spent a week with the full creative team, lights, sound, dramaturgy and puppetry, trying out ideas and clarifying the content of the show.
Our next project was ready to start as well, working with the Little Angel Theatre on their 4×4 project we began developing a new schools production, based on a play from the GCSE syllabus, using mainly shadow puppetry and an immersive set… all will be revealed in due course!
2017 took us, and Ted, on some much further afield adventures when we performed CELL in Malaysia at George Town Festival in August, and Hong Kong at Ngau Chi Wan Civic Centre in November. This was a brilliant opportunity to take our non-verbal work to international audiences, and the show went down really well.
In the middle of this, we were commissioned by Derby Feste to build a giant, 16ft tree man puppet called Arbor, who wowed audiences at the festival. Then to round off the year, we redeveloped A Christmas Carol for Salisbury Arts Centre, and had a lot of festive fun performing this show again.
March saw the centenary of women’s suffrage, so in keeping with our new female centred show Flux, we held an open puppetry workshop exploring manipulation of the female body. This lead us directly into the second phase of R&D for this show, culminating in work in progress sharings in London at Shoreditch Town Hall, and Oxford at OffBeat Festival.
Alf and Ben then made an appearance at the 10th International Youth Arts Festival, where we performed In Our Hands to a lovely home crowd.
Aside from shows we were also busy delivering workshops, and collaborated with Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival to work with people living with Dementia. Together we produced a beautiful shadow puppetry film which was screened in the Autumn, and again in 2019. This lead onto working with Gunnersbury Park Museum to deliver their ReCollection project, delivering dementia friendly activities for another lovely group, and of course, we were delighted to return to the Little Angel to deliver Spectrum Youth Theatre 2018-19.
We had a few commissions from other companies, highlights included performing and filming shadow puppetry for the Marysas Trio, building a giant outdoor puppet for Stories by Zenaida in Dubai, and creating and directing puppetry for Cornerstone Theatre’s Christmas Production of The Pied Piper.
In November we finished developing Flux, with a complete light up set, finished and permed puppet, and original eighties style score we premiered in London, Swansea and Oxford.
Alongside our outreach work continuing into the early part of the year, we began straight away with designing a new show for the Little Angel Theatre, Out of this World.
We had a great time collaborating with Kinetika Arts International, working with the Witham community to build a giant puppet for their carnival, delivering puppetry workshops and parading at different events in their extraordinary giant puppets.
We took Kate out on her first UK tour of Flux, we performed all over the country, and developed education workshops with the Institute of Physics to help encourage teenage girls into STEM careers.
In the Summer we were commissioned by Applause Rural Touring to produce a family show about Arbor (the giant tree puppet), called Arbor the Tree, which we have toured around the UK, going to lots of festivals in Kent and Derby.
We have delivered more workshops at Gunnersbury Museum, this time for primary school children doing their Arts Award Explore, and will be back there in 2020. Christmas saw us revisit an old favourite and stage a new version of A Christmas Carol at the Bridge House Theatre in Warwick, where we kept busy baking gingerbread between shows.