REVIEW: Apples in Winter, LynchPin Productions (Playground Theatre)

Trigger warning: This review contains discussion of violent crime, death row and grief.

Jennifer Fawcett’s award-winning play, Apples in Winter, has its European premiere at the Playground Theatre, London this month. Produced by LynchPin Productions, the play provides a rare glimpse into the invisible impact of violent crime, from the perspective of those whose suffering is rarely considered. In the aftermath of a murder, the grief of the victims’ families is often played out very publicly. We share their fear and hope as they face the cameras at news conferences, desperate for information. We experience their agony as they attend candlelit vigils and their anger as they sit in a courtroom, staring powerless at the person who took their loved one away. We feel their pain, we admire their equanimity and we hope beyond hope that we never have to go through the life-shattering experience that they have endured. But we rarely spare a thought for the other families who are destined to serve their own life sentence. Separated from their loved ones and isolated from society by the shame of a crime that they didn’t commit are the families of the perpetrator. Apples in Winter tells their story.

Miriam’s son, Robert has been on death row for 22 years. And although they have been physically separated for all that time, she has lived every moment with him. Time has lost all meaning and yet all they have is time. But that time is coming to an end and now all Miriam (Edie Campbell) can do for Robert is something that she has been unable to do for 22 years. Robert is entitled to the ritual of one last meal and he has requested his mother’s apple pie. Over the course of 75 minutes, we watch Miriam go through her own familiar ritual, demonstrating how to bake the perfect pie as she grapples with the anticipatory grief of losing her son.

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Edie Campbell as Miriam. Photo credit:

It’s a beautifully written single-hander and Campbell gives an astonishing performance. Alone on stage for the full 75 minutes, not only does she deliver a lengthy and emotional monologue but she goes through the full process of baking the apple pie in front of the audience. The juxtaposition of the ordinary, wholesome ritual of baking with the harsh reality of Miram’s situation is extremely effective. At first, the pie is the real focus, with Miriam giving glimpses into her time as a young mother, life measured happily by the different fruits offered by the changing seasons. But small things snap us back to the horror of what is about to unfold. Miriam talks fondly of her home kitchen and an apple tree she tended lovingly for years, picking the perfect apples to bake the perfect pies every September. But the imperfect apples she peels with a knife chained to the countertop remind us that she’s not in her own kitchen and it’s not apple pie season. And regular glances at the imposing electronic clock on the wall behind her take on a far greater significance than simply checking when to take the pie out of the oven.

As time ticks on, and the room starts to fill with the sweet scents of cinnamon and nutmeg, we learn more about the rituals that have defined Miriam’s life over the last 22 years. She tells of weekly visits to prison, every Sunday like the one before, the same breakfast and a stop en route to smoke a cigarette to try and make things feel normal for Robert, even though she gave up smoking years ago. And every other day she follows the daily routine of prison life, waking, eating and going to bed at the same time as the inmates in an attempt to feel close to Robert. But 22 years of comforting routine are about to come to an end and Miriam must grapple with with the enormity of what her son has done. Slowly, she starts to open up, sharing the reactions first of her own family and then of the victim’s families, getting closer to acknowledging what happened on the fateful night when her life changed forever. Finally the pie is ready and Miriam is too.

Directed brilliantly by Claire Parker, the production makes powerful use of silence, with Elizabeth Tooms’ lighting and Andrew Hodson’s bleak set design really enhancing the emotional impact. Each evening also ends with an after-show discussion featuring guests including criminal justice practitioners, those involved in human rights and restorative justice, and individuals with lived experience of the criminal justice system. At the performance we attended, the guests were Sandra Barefoot of The Forgiveness Project and Dunia Shafik, a mother whose son is currently serving a life sentence for murder. This really hammered home the themes of the play, as Dunia shared her story and explored how Miriam’s experience echoed her own.

Apples in Winter is an enthralling, emotional and impactful play which will no doubt appeal to anyone with an interest in the criminal justice system but will resonate for so many more. A remarkable piece of theatre which offers a voice to an often-ostracised group of people and will hopefully open up important conversations about justice and forgiveness.

Apples in Winter plays at the Playground Theatre, London from 5 to 15 October 2022. We received a complimentary press ticket to the performance on Friday 7 October.