In a short hour, Smoking Apple’s touring production, Kinder, transports us across Europe, various time periods, and identities. The one thing that stays constant? The kindness of others, as seen through the eyes of a little Czech-Jewish girl called Babi.
Kinder is, without a doubt, one of the best intimate pieces of theatre one will see touring the U.K. this season. At every venue, the company sets up their little performance space, a lovely convention of many traditional touring troupes. This space is a mix between a train cabin and a theatre, but ultimately a space for the audience to connect a little more to their humanity. Only large enough to fit 30 audience members, Matt Lloyd’s set design creates a sense of secrecy, like children hidden in train carriages as they’re transported across national borders during WWII. On one wall, there is a map depicting Babi’s journey from Prague to Margate, and on the others, windows and screens for sheer puppetry magic to happen.
Yet, this is more than “just a puppet show”. The themes may seem heavy, but the story is delivered so gently, injected with the innocence of a child, so that audiences of any age (recommended ages 9+) can access the content. Molly Freeman’s direction clearly acknowledges and trusts the maturity of younger audiences to engage with the subject material. And speaking of access, this show was clearly designed with various audience access needs in mind. Despite taking place in a box-like structure, audiences may leave at any time. At the door, stimulatory accessories (including bean bags, fidget spinners and noise cancelling headphones) are provided. The space remains open after the performance for audiences to reflect, engage with the materials, and decompress. They are invited to write messages on luggage tags to children in Babi’s position, which is tragically the reality for many of them around the world today.
Puppeteers Hattie Thomas, David Burchhardt and Tea Poldervaart take on the myriad characters in the show, while also managing the cinematic scenic shadow puppetry. On top of that, they still find delightful moments of audience interaction, as children are invited to help bake a marmite cake, queue up for roll call, or pass messages from one character to another. The fact that the puppeteers are always visible, adds a layer of distance during heightened moments. More importantly, it reminds us of our agency in times of crisis—our ability to help others in need, and to take charge of our lives, even in the tiniest of gestures.
This production has successfully utilised the creativity of every single design element in a way that makes each one absolutely necessary. Sherry Coenen’s subtle lighting design depicts the passage of time, turbulent nights and hopeful mornings. Jon Ouin’s composition and George Bellamy’s visceral sound design has planes flying overhead and voice recordings from people whose story this is based on. Molly Freeman and George Bellamy’s cleverly written script mixes English and gibberish so the audience hears the world through Babi’s ears. Kinder, deliberately designed with the child’s perspective in mind, is one of the safest and respectful ways to explore a historical occurrence that could have easily been clumsily overloaded with trauma.
This story is in all ways exquisite. There is so much more to Kinder beyond this review. There’s simply something magical about the experience that cannot be articulated in words. Audiences will leave Kinder with their hearts a little bigger than when they entered.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.
This post was written by Victoria Chen.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.