Inspired by the centenary of partial female suffrage in 2018, Smoking Apples set themselves the challenge of telling a woman’s story, exploring the objectification of the female form by using puppets, and working with an all-female cast. Flux is the result; a 60-minute mostly visual story about Kate, a female scientist in the male-dominated labs of the 80s. It is based on the real-life scientist Lise Meitner, who discovered nuclear fission but her male colleague Otto Hahn took away the Nobel Prize instead. The show is currently on a short UK tour, most recently stopping off at Greenwich Theatre.
The issue of equality for women in science (and, indeed, in any workplace) is an incredibly important one, and I’m not sure this show really does it justice. You can’t necessarily expect too much detail from an hour-long play, but at the same time it does need to say something; a hefty amount of time is spent showing Kate buying & playing LPs, drinking cocktails, and developing her relationship with Alan – work scenes are generally limited to a few seconds of typing, ooh-ing, and recording herself messages on her dictaphone. There are also a fair few more abstract sequences, involving either coloured orbs or shadow puppetry – it’s not always clear what the point is, which makes them a bit tedious as they go on and on.
The noises Kate makes get wearing very quickly (oohs, erms, yeahs, etc.), reminiscent of the kind of stuff that comes out of the mouths of pre-school TV characters – if she’s not going to talk properly it might actually be a bit more effective keeping her completely silent. A bit more care also needs to go into her movement to help the audience believe that she is a living being (and to hold focus); at times it is a bit careless, plus her right arm dangles limp & lifeless, decreasing any believability.
They may have failed with the all-female cast idea, but actually I think that works in their favour; having a male actor there as Dr Charles Bagshot helps to make the point a bit better, and with three female cast members completing the company there’s a bit of symbolic ‘revenge’ for Kate’s situation.
On the whole it’s quite disappointing; it needs a bit of finessing, as well as more thought about who the main target audience is – obviously there’s nothing to stop anyone coming to see it, but I wasn’t prepared for its tone to veer from quite childish to rather serious. Its heart is in the right place, but I had hoped for more.
My verdict? A basic exploration of the barriers for women in science – its heart is in the right place, but the whole thing is a bit of a disappointment.
Flux ran at Greenwich Theatre from 15-16 June 2019. Full details of the tour can be found on the official website.