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Cell, The Cockpit – Review

Presented by Smoking Apples Theatre & Little Cauliflower Theatre Company

Pros: Extraordinary puppetry creates a real affection for Ted and I followed his story with interest and emotion.
Cons: Some slight prop mishaps disrupted the magic temporarily.
Our Verdict: A refreshing and un-judgmental look at disability and the effect it has on someone’s life.
Courtesy of Smoking Apples Theatre
Within a maze of streets behind Marylebone station is The Cockpit Theatre. The entrance reminds me slightly of a school or community centre but the bar has a friendly vibe and great music, which is always a make or break factor for me!
Cell tells the story of Ted, a puppet whose body closely resembles a Guy ready for a bonfire, with a papier mache head, hands and feet and simple glasses. The show starts with the puppet sitting with leg and head supports as a robotic, American voice is heard. This is also how the show ends, bookending the story of the trip of a lifetime that Ted decides to take (with his pet goldfish) on discovering that he has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. The goldfish joins Ted on his trip in a small suitcase with a Perspex front, a brilliant idea! Before his trip begins we are witness to the tests that take place to diagnose him, including a particularly evocative portrayal of a CT scan.
The star of this performance was without a doubt the puppet. The fact that I walk away with this impression is a huge credit to the skill of the puppeteers, a cast of four: Matthew Lloyd, Molly Freeman, William Aubrey-Jones and Carly McConnell. Even though the puppet was so simple I found myself growing increasingly attached to Ted; I felt as if I knew his little quirks and his character came through incredibly well. 
Teds trip takes him across Europe by train, and along the way he meets a couple of characters. The first is a man many people have to endure on public transport: the one who loudly turns the pages of his paper, kicks you accidently and then brings out a packet of crisps, causing commuter hearts to sink. The laughter in the audience reassured me that I’m not alone in this annoyance!
The other character he meets on the train is a woman. The scene in which they meet, sitting opposite each other and both reading a Bill Bryson book, is beautifully realised. I never thought puppets with so little detail could evoke so much emotion, yet there I was with tears in my eyes as the woman placed her hand over Ted’s in a European café. Their goodbye was so beautiful and heartfelt that I couldn’t believe I was looking at a puppet man and a woman made up of merely one hand and a head. 
In addition to the physical puppets, there is also some shadow puppetry on display. First used as Ted describes his symptoms to a Doctor, the shadow puppetry is then used to great effect to give an insight into Ted’s trip across Europe, with train station signs and a particularly beautiful depiction of a gondola ride.
The story switches between his slow degeneration and his trip until finally we return to hearing the robotic voice he is forced to use as the disease takes its hold. He states that although his body may be degenerating his memories are not, and that he can therefore console himself with the memories of his incredible trip. The line that stuck with me was ‘I’m living with MND, not dying from it’. 
We are told that this is merely a work in progress. If that is the case then I look forward to seeing how such a sensitive and beautiful piece of work could be improved, although I’d encourage them to mostly keep it just as it was tonight!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Cell has now completed its run at The Cockpit Theatre. For more information on visit the website for Smoking Apples Theatre here: http://www.smokingapplestheatre.com/ or the website for Little Cauliflower Theatre here: http://www.littlecauliflower.co.uk/.

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One comment

  1. I have also seen this beautiful work in progress, the description of your emotional response matches mine, in fact as I read your review I became tearful again. You are right the puppeteers are amazing in their research, design and performance of this piece.

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