<strong><em>Apples In Winter (Review)</em></strong>

Apples In Winter (Review)


Before the development of modern food storage methods fresh produce had its own season for harvesting and eating; apples, for instance,  were primarily an autumn crop. Miriam makes this point as she sets about creating a pie for her son Robert to enjoy. The sweet treat is tinged with bitterness and regret though for the latter is on death row and it is to be part of his final meal before the state ritual of execution is carried out. This is the scenario in Jennifer Fawcett’s Apples In Winter currently on stage at The Playground Theatre in West London.


An award winning play from the US, this production is its European premiere and features a beautifully nuanced performance from Edie Campbell as the one and only character who gives agency to a generally neglected set of voices – the mothers of the criminally convicted. Criminality can, of course, often spring from neglect but there is no suggestion of that here. In fact, Miriam and Robert seem to have had a perfectly fine relationship until the point where the latter becomes an addict whereupon everything goes pear shaped (should, of course, be apple shaped but that doesn’t work). Robert commits a senseless act of violence resulting in death and is sentenced to pay the full penalty.

All of this is gradually revealed as we see Miriam making a pie she has made her son countless times before – often as the centrepiece of a celebratory occasion. And it is only gradually that we realise that the setting is the prison kitchen. She is not allowed to bake at home and bring the dessert in, just in case she “puts something in it” and cheats the justice system of her son’s ritualised demise. The production drops some clever hints. The set looks far grubbier than would be suggested by a home environment and at first Miriam is using a plastic knife to cut up the butter – my instant mental condemnation of the stage manager turned to approbation once I realised. There is a proper knife too but that is chained to the countertop; at this point the proverbial penny dropped. Pastry is made and fashioned into a pie crust, apples are sliced, spices are added. The result, constructed before our eyes, looks good enough to eat though Miriam has warned that many people in Robert’s position decline to do so.

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I’m sorry if I’m making the play sound like a tame episode of The Great British Bake Off because it is far more than that. It’s an indictment of a system which insists on revenge but does little to solve the problems before they arise. It also asks the big question about what happens to the families who are left behind. Miriam in no way condones what her son has perpetrated but wonders what more could have been done to keep him from reaching the point where “an eye for an eye” is touted as the only solution. And over twenty years has passed since sentencing took place – the ongoing mental torture for all concerned must be horrendous.

FeyXLxIXgAAnHa-Edie Campbell shows us a woman in torment but trying desperately to harness her emotions. At first she comes across as the all-American mom, baking that most traditional of US dishes, talking quietly and smiling wryly as she reminisces. But gradually the cracks begin to show; Campbell becomes increasingly agitated and even faints at the emotional intenseness of it all. Finally, she cracks and the last third of the play is a moving and delicately crafted piece on the part of the actor, the writer and director Claire Parker who sets the whole thing against a stark digital timer which counts down the minutes. Bake Off may sometimes be tense – but it is never as tense as this. Recommended.

Apples In Winter is at the Playground Theatre – click here

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