Pros: Very moving and dramatic without being maudlin.
Cons: The awkward shape of the auditorium made some scenes hard to see.
The heart and soul of Cell is Ted, a rather portly puppet with glasses who has a reasonably happy, if staid, life that revolves around stamp collecting. Then he begins to notice changes in his body; he starts dropping objects, becomes dizzy, trips a lot. A series of doctor’s appointments and tests reveal the diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease. What to do now? Rage? Cry? Allow life to shrink to an ever-dwindling circle of increasingly hampered movement? Instead, Ted goes on a trip. He remembers the stamps sent to him on postcards from around the world and decides to make the most of the movement he has left by traveling Europe with his pet fish.
The fish doesn’t have a name, but he’s a spirited little thing. Ted takes him on his train journey, suffering the indignities of sharing train-station tables with rude passengers and overpaying desultory wait staff. Nevertheless Ted’s found a form of freedom, perhaps more than he’s ever had in life, by watching the world roll by through the train windows. And one day he even meets a woman… a woman reading a Bill Bryson travelogue, just like he is. They travel together for some time, strolling through markets and sitting in cafes, and eventually they arrive in Venice. Having just come back from a train trip there myself, I can honestly say that if Venice can’t make you happy to be alive, I don’t know what can.
Cell took a year to research and develop, a level of commitment that is very apparent in the painstaking detail of the performance. Emily Appleton Holley’s soundscape does a great deal to convey Ted’s thoughts and feelings. Among other elements it comprises a beautiful, haunting piano score, the sound of Ted’s electronic voice, and the distorted, disorienting sounds that occur as he becomes increasingly aware of his physical limitations. I found the train station announcements, clearly sourced from the French train company SNCF, especially impressive and very much indicative of the care that went into crafting the show overall. The performers, Matthew Lloyd, Molly Freeman and William Aubrey-Jones, do an excellent job of breathing life into Ted and his fish, manipulating them subtly and unobtrusively. They are never distracting: instead they seem like aides that merely help Ted move around of his own accord.
Though Ted takes his lady friend to Venice, the conclusion can’t exactly be described as riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after. That sobering layer of tragedy makes Cell a graceful and poignant look at how to live life fully and richly in the face of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Long may Ted, and Cell, travel.
Devisers: Matthew Lloyd, Molly Freeman, William Aubrey-Jones and Carly McConnell
Composer and Sound Designer: Emily Appleton Holley
Producers: Little Cauliflower Theatre, Red Threaders and Smoking Apples Theatre
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.