Hawea Flat Hall, Hawea

14/04/2021 - 15/04/2021

Te Auaha, Tapere Nui, 65 Dixon Street, Te Aro, Wellington

16/11/2022 - 19/11/2022


Production Details

Directed by Hannah Smith

Trick of the Light Theatre

After captivating Wānaka audiences with The Bookbinder and The Road That Wasn’t There, award-winning company Trick of the Light Theatre are thrilled to be back with their latest show The Griegola highly visual, wildly inventive show about death, love, grief, and monsters.

“After a girl’s granny passes away, she starts to suspect she is being pursued by the smoke demon shapeshifter of the old woman’s stories. In the tradition of Spirited Away and Coraline, The Griegol is a mythic, gorgeously rendered dark fantasy for brave children and lovers of atmospheric theatre.”

“Charming, poignant, and expertly performed by a multi-talented cast, The Griegol is a unique theatre experience.” – Theatrescenes

Over the course of their ten-year history, Trick of the Light has spent much of their time touring work overseas – winning awards and acclaim around the world for their dark, cross-over shows for older children and adults. Like many artists, co-directors Hannah Smith and Ralph McCubbin-Howell were hit hard by the pandemic professionally, with the lockdown forcing the cancellation of a new work just days out from opening, as well as planned tours across China and the UK.

However, time away from the touring circuit allowed them to push their work in new directions, with The Griegoltheir first foray into non-text based work. “Instead of a workshop with actors, we spent lockdown plotting the show as a storyboard, and from a very early stage started sending ideas for a score back and forth with our composer, Tane Upjohn-Beatson,” says Smith.

The result is a work that pushes the bounds for a company already renowned for their inventive staging; combining puppetry, shadow-play, stop-motion, and live animation. “Essentially we’ve built the world’s most absurdly high tech OHP,” says McCubbin Howell. “It combines lo-fi shadow puppets, hand cranks, and lightboxes with live video streams and projection – allowing us to shift mechanics that usually take place out of sight, onstage to form part of the action, so that audiences get to see both the visual effects and their creation.” Music and sound play a significant role, with a score by Upjohn-Beatson, and live music and foley by violinist Tristan Carter.

The show had its world premiere at Auckland Festival of the Arts last month with a critically acclaimed run at Q Theatre. Directed by Hannah Smith, the cast reunites McCubbin-Howell with regular collaborators Paul Waggott and Elle Wootton (The Road That Wasn’t There) and the company are delighted to be working with Stevie Hancox-Monk (A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs).

Audiences can discover this new work from some of Aotearoa’s most inventive theatre makers at
Hawea Flat Hall
14-15 April 2021
as part of Festival of Colour.

Te Auaha, Te Whanganui-a-tara

16-19 November 2022

Recommended for ages 7+
Contains references to death and grief

Child - Stevie Hancox-Monk
Dad - Paul Waggott
Nurse, Gentleman Caller - Ralph McCubbin Howell
Funeral Home Director, Granny - Elle Wootton

Live Musician - Tristan Carter

Composition & Sound Design - Tane Upjohn Beatson
Lighting Design - Marcus McShane
Technical Operator - Brad Gledhill
Puppet Design - Jon Coddington
Set and Costume Design, Stage Manager - Sylvie McCreanor
Set and Costume Design - Rose Kirkup

Video trailer - Dean Hewison
Technical Support - Filament 11 Eleven

Story - Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith
Lyrics - Ralph McCubbin Howell
Stop-motion - Ralph McCubbin Howell
Illustration - Hannah Smith

Theatre , Puppetry , Family ,

Highly polished production strikes the bullseye with horror and humour

Review by Dave Smith 17th Nov 2022

This 50-minute presentation is as savvy and powerful a piece of theatre as I have ever seen. It was put together some time ago but has hitherto has not been seen in Wellington. It is an important work. This packed and triumphant opening night in the Capital has now rectified the previous omission for the good of all.

The Griegol is born out of the noble traditions of silent movies and shadow, mime and puppet theatre. It is partly billed as a dark fantasy for brave children. I have now concluded that adults are at best no more than brave children.

Its name might suggest a dragon-like creature that is looking for a passing hero to slay it during the school holidays. By no means does that glib assessment apply to this all-too-real Griegol.

Through it we come not to be titillated but enthralled and changed. This is the pinnacle of theatre using everything in the artistic armoury except the spoken word. It bounces like a pinball between doom-laden live music, crackling canned music, shadows, moving and still cartoonish backgrounds, actors communicating by precise movement, smoke, bubbles with smoke in them and montage. Life is artfully compressed into this stunning array of techniques.  The audience is barely allowed space or time to breathe.

As the first four letters of its enigmatic title might suggest, the theme is one of grief. It is the grief of a young child who once lost their mum and has now lost the alluring grandma who ‘stood in’ for her. I am loath to dabble in the details. The production is so impressively peppered with surprise and delight, with fear and apprehension, with sensational tours de force, that to dissect it may be to blow it away.

Let’s just say that when we are young and lose someone precious, when our world comes tumbling down in an instant, we are oddly left out. Grief is for older people to talk and muscle their way through socially. The kid will simply ‘get over it’. Well probably, but……… they’re confronting the most terrifying and isolating fact of life (that those we love die) and must wrestle day and night with the Griegol.

Trick of the Light gives us the child’s perspective on how that all unfolds as banality merges into fantasy. The terse titles on screen at the back spell out the bland days of the week from the day when Grandma passes then onto to her funeral. The rituals of an older person’s death command the high ground. The adults’ immersion in the costly corpse disposal industry muffles more down-to-earth grief. High on the list of ‘things to do’ is to locate photos for the perfunctory order of service.

Then the drama comes in like an anvil falling from a great height into a swimming pool.  The Griegol strikes per medium of real smoke and cartoon fumes. It curls into shapes that terrify the hell out of the child – and, might I say, the audience – be that young or old. It’s one of those unspoken dreads; an invisible killer. It haunts the sleeping hours of the little one; it stalks their every moment. There is no let up for them – or us.

There are shadow scenes where we learn the backstory of what a wonderful Grandma that deceased lady was: wise, mischievous and funny. She also thinks ahead about her treasured grandchild. We trust the sneering Griegol will be no match for her. She will be as much a shining star after her death as she was in life.

As for the young one, their puppet version is a palpable triumph: life sized and utterly appealing. Their two operating minders skilfully navigate them around the stage (we mentally photo-shop them out) giving a performance that no child of that age could ever be expected to give. It is both touching and uncannily real. They often flee the imposed banal world of Wednesday and Thursday bounding into the arms of their bemused father in a manner that simply melts the human heart. We truly see our former panicked selves in those exquisite moments, courtesy of a paper doll. Art, yet again, tells a lie in order to tell the truth.

Attempts to distracting the child from their overwhelming grief are to no avail. However they do introduce a ginger (marionette) cat that plays a most impressive part in the fable. It does all the things a real cat does and a few other things besides, like walking, hilariously, on its back legs. It is incongruously funny, as is so much of The Griegol.  And here’s the thing: we get horror and literally hysterical humour in the same package. As with real grief, it’s what gets us and the little one through. We all find ourselves laughing insanely so that we don’t have to cry.

This reminds me so much of the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, a director who started life as a maker of silent movies. Silent, of course, being a grossly inadequate word given that music and sound effects were so much the grist of the heavily authored pieces that Hitchcock came up with. So was humour and the risible grotesqueries of everyday life. He would have hearty approved of The Griegol, which glories in showing raw emotion not just telling linear storylines. He would also have envied its director for having a puppet star who doesn’t complain and who serves up poignant facial and bodily expressions bang on cue.

The Griegol relies on a stellar team of creatives to deliver these surefooted goods. Director (and co-writer with Ralph McCubbin Howell) Hannah Smith has every right to be proud or her work. She also contributes a superb set of background illustrations that do so much to lay out an everyday view of life – replete with Tip Top signs – that contrasts so effectively with the gargantuan events playing out in front of it. The non-speaking cast of Stevie Hancox-Monk, Paul Waggott, Elle Wootton and Ralph McCubbin Howell are mightily adept in the many diverse stage disciplines they are called upon to employ.

Jon Coddington is the brains behind those crucial puppets. If only we could produce real children and cats like those two do. Musician (and sometimes effects man) Tristan Carter plays a mean fiddle that some might characterise as loudly intrusive. I don’t because without that the overbearing terror that it marks, the piece would be sorely diminished.

The technical team deserves immense praise. Like an intricate firing of a moonshot rocket, the whole 50 minutes here depend on split second timing in the interplay of lighting, sound and action. Every moment is a special effect. Top honours go to Sylvie McCreanor (SM) Ella Madsen Brough (Operator), Marcus McShane (Lighting Design) and Brad Gledhill (Tech Design).

At the conclusion, the huge audience sits there cheering with tears rolling down the faces of many of them. The highly polished event has struck the bullseye but I am left wondering (just a little) about how young a person might have to be before coming to it. (There’s a degree of irony in that. In real life, children are routinely exposed to the rigours of the ubiquitous Griegol with scant help or, even, comment. Does putting it into a theatre alter that very much?)

With parental permission I asked for the views of an eight year old boy who had sat through the whole presentation. He accepted that there were moments when he might well have run from his seat, but he hadn’t. The powerful music had really got to him emotionally and was clearly staying with him as we spoke. I’m sure he’ll be alright. He espoused the view that maybe ten- to twelve-year-olds might weather the experience a little better but that depends on all sort of other things. Having a perceptive and brave parent (as this boy had) was, maybe, the key.

So there you have it.  An almost flawless production now adorns our capital city. Please, I beg of you, do go along. The rest of your life depends on it.


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Touching, delightful and exciting

Review by Ruth Heath 16th Apr 2021

Trick Of The Light Theatre brings their newest creation, The Griegol, to Hāwea Flat Hall as part of Wānaka’s Festival of Colour. Hannah Smith, Director, and story creator along with Ralph McCubbin Howell, are the creative forces behind this one. The two 9 year old boys I have brought with me and their friend, all of us amateur theatre goers in this small rural township, are all captivated for the show’s entirety.

Striking music begins The Griegol and its 50 minutes of dynamism, cleverness and beauty. The bold sound segues to more melodic music accompanying actors in the middle of the stage with an animated screen behind. From the right of the stage the distinct sound of a violin emerges and live musician, Tristan Carter, appears softly lighted amongst an otherwise dark atmosphere.

A small flickering candle in front of Granny’s portrait and our violinist, introduces us to grief, one of the main themes of the play. Granny’s death gives rise to The Griegol, cleverly played out on screen through stop-motion animation by Ralph McCubbin Howell, and what we see the cast – Elle Wootton, Paul Waggott, Stevie Hancox-Monk, Ralph McCubbin Howell – doing stage left involving smoke, lifting and placing of screens, cranking and other intriguing puppetry techniques.    

It’s about half way through the performance that I begin to understand the multifaceted collaboration of everything happening on stage. I am in awe of the professionalism and talent while simultaneously engaging with the story playing out in front of us, without words.  

The protagonist, thoughtfully cast in the form of a young, expressionless girl puppet, allows us to decide the puppet’s perspective and how she navigates her grief. The girl’s puppeteer/actor, at one with the puppet, helps any searching minds in the audience with her subtle expressions in lieu of dialogue.

Griegol, the metaphorical monster of death, the unknown and the frightening, features and pervades in myriad ways amongst the characters, reaching its highest point of intensity in a darkly chaotic and magical dream scene of the child’s. The play’s darkest moment gives way to the beginning of a new theme, beautifully played out in the story with a symbolic key unlocking love and connection. A release of tension ensues for the audience and perhaps a moment of catharsis for anyone who has experienced grief and its flipside; this is a moving moment for me. All of this is juxtaposed against the connected technical expertise, acting and brilliance of the performance itself.

The musical score, Tane Upjohn-Beatson, with its live musical accompaniment, as well as real time sound – such as falling books on the floor after we see silhouettes on screen fly animated ones through the air – weaves throughout the play as seamlessly as all the actors move between their acting roles and technically animation. There are particularly clever moments of connection throughout the performance between actors, characters, animators and the musician, that delight. I notice the father using his computer keyboard in unison with the violin, a small example of such connectedness.

Grief is poignantly described through the perspective of a father and daughter, independently and in relation to each other – loss and connection being both sides of the same coin, and the play beautifully describes this. The dark and eerie gives way to an uplifting end to the story. The score and carefully curated atmosphere carries it all.  

Concluding the performance, the cast generously invite and share their process and tricks of the light with the audience. I’m not sure if this is the benefit of living in the small settlement of Hāwea Flat where, at our local community hall, the setting is intimate, or if this is an offering at all performances of The Griegol. Nevertheless, it is all part of a touching, delightful and exciting theatrical experience.


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