Orange Studio, 1063c Ferry Road, Christchurch

15/04/2018 - 15/04/2018

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

03/04/2018 - 07/04/2018

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

12/04/2018 - 14/04/2018

Production Details


It’s 1998.
Otto is twelve but he says he’s thirteen and he’s pretty sure he gets away with it. He lives in an old wooden two-story house with his mum, dad and sister, a chain-smoking Icelandic granny and an ancient malevolent tröll that’s living in the wall… 

After captivating audiences around the world with their pocket-size production TheBookbinder, award-winning Wellington-based company Trick of the Light Theatre are back with Tröll,an original dark fable. First staged at the foot of the stairs of their flat to an audience of only ten people, Tröll tells an uncanny tale from the twitchy edges of the digital age. Combining storytelling, music, and puppetry, the lo-fi wi-fi fable will play at BATS Theatre from April 3-7 before touring around the country.

Trick of the Light are no strangers to imaginative solo shows. TheBookbinder is staged around an elaborate, handcrafted pop-up book and entirely lit by table lamps. The play has taken them around the world, from the UK to the USA, Australia to South Africa, and with venues ranging from theatres and bars to the Lincoln Center in New York, a 16th century English library, and tucked beneath the eaves in the attic of Aotearoa New Zealand’s oldest bookbindery.

With Tröll the company wanted to bring the innovative design and intricate narrative that have delighted these audiences with TheBookbinder into the contemporary world. “It was an exciting provocation to design a show that can play in a hallway to 10 people, or on a stage to 150,” says designer Hannah Smith. “The play is inventively staged, transforming everyday devices, so smartphones become light sources, laptops turn into skyscrapers, and charger cords morph into puppets.”

The upcoming BATS season is the first leg of a tour that will take them to Christchurch, Dunedin, and Upper Hutt, and they hope to take the work further afield in 2019.

Tröll weaves a story both mythic and modern in the vein of StrangerThings. For adults and children 12+.

From the earlier development season:
“I just love this show. It is brilliant, dark, funny and poignant. But mostly it is clever.” – Theatreview, Tauranga

BATS Theatre The Propeller Stage
3 – 7 April 2018
Full Price $20
Concession Price $15
Group 6+ $14

Fortune Theatre
12-14 April 2018

Orange Studio
15 April 2018
5:30 + 7:30pm

Facebook /trickofthelighttheatre
Twitter @stagetrick 

The Creative Team

Written and performed by Ralph McCubbin Howell
Based on a story idea by Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith
Directed by Charlotte Bradley
Designed by Hannah Smith
Composition and Sound Design by Tane Upjohn-Beatson
Based on a story idea by Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith 

Theatre , Puppetry ,

1 hr

Both funny and scary

Review by Barbara Frame 16th Apr 2018

Two teenagers came to Troll, the latest production by Trick of the Light, a small Wellington theatre company.

Afterwards, I asked them what they thought. The younger one said it was both funny and scary. True.

The main character, Otto, is a pre-teen who lives with his sister, parents and chain-smoking Icelandic granny. His nerdiness is funny, in a way appropriate to 1997 when the play is set. But things take a scary turn when Otto, who is at a new school and does not like it much, starts spending more time than is good for him on the internet … [More


Make a comment

A fantasy that stirs something deep

Review by Lindsay Clark 16th Apr 2018

The work of Ralph McCubbin-Howell and Hannah Smith, who together founded the increasingly popular Trick of the Light theatre company, combines superb storytelling and strikingly imaginative presentation. It offers heart-warmingly unpretentious pretending and delivers real theatre of rare quality.

For Tröll the staging is limited to two computer desks, one for the performer (McCubbin-Howell) and one for the operator (Smith), who is so involved as to be an alter performer. Light sources, often handheld everyday objects such as phone or desk lamp, create a stage world where shadow is more than a device for puppetry and becomes an integral part of the intriguing tale being spun.  

Suggested as suitable fare for the pre-teen age group regularly overlooked in holiday productions but certainly of universal appeal, the play delves into memories of that earlier period of his life when present day Otto is sent a photo of their old house by his sister. Memory has its own murky corners and young Otto’s experiences touch on his struggle not only in growing up as a lonely new boy in a new town, but in the exotic territory brought into his life by cable and the realms of early internet. 

Sometimes this is via the chat room he frequents on sneaky late night visits (his favourite topic being The Dark Ages) but as the story unravels, it is a dreaded and more primal presence in the wall, a lurking horror that links its own cable to the family modem, seen as just another tangly thing to the rest of the household. Otto knows better.

Crafted by the assured storytelling and shadow puppetry of the talented presenters, it is a pretty normal family, albeit seen from the perspective of the young Otto. There is his ancient Nordic grandmother Amma too, come to live in the family sleepout and the permanent smoky haze of her tobacco habit. There she is, in the dark of the operator’s desk, suggested by puffs of vapour to fuel our belief. Gentle humour pervades this part of the play, sweeping along with recorded dialogue to speed the scene changes. 

Amma becomes increasingly important in Otto’s encounters with the Tröll from the wall, for she has the old wisdom about such things and has indeed had direct experience of trolls. She knows the peril they bring and how they can be vanquished. Voiced by Anya Tate-Manning, her cautions and demands propel the play into darker territory than the comedy of family life or the quirky observations and preoccupations of a schoolboy. The Tröll is endowed with all the fear of things unknown and unconfronted. Like a good fairy tale, the fantasy stirs something deep.

The intimacy of this studio venue is a splendid fit for the tone and process of these theatre makers and from the performer’s skilfully artless introduction, we are drawn willingly into a totally engaging experience. Sound design and composition by Tane Upjohn-Beatson seamlessly underscores mood and action, so that for one hour at least, we see everyday things freshly and feel the delicious frisson of the dark. 


Make a comment

Layers, skill and great storytelling with a meaning

Review by Patrick Davies 04th Apr 2018

Trick of the Light’s latest offering began life last year in the stairwell of their Aro Valley flat and has now grown into a complex, funny, moving and dark tale.

A simple message takes Otto back to his 12-year-old self and we embark on the story of simpler times when listening to your computer dialling up was exciting. Alone with the computer and the freedom of the early chat rooms, Otto begins to discover that, like his new school, these places and his own home have trolls and things take a dark turn.

Trick of the Light lives up to its name spectacularly with continuous and ingenious use of shadow and light. From light stalks to lamps, to a face full of computer screen blue, tremendous thought and skill has been brought to bear on how the story is told with the delight of a child and theatre crafters at the top of their game.

Two desks are on stage in front of a vast white cyclorama. Ralph McCubbin Howell sits at his modern-day desk in a room delineated by simple white strip LEDs on the floor. Outside this sits Hannah Smith (the ‘wiring in the wall’) with a plethora of equipment as she operates the show, sometimes entering the space to illuminate characters – Mum & Dad as performed by both, not at all as you’d expect but with a wonderful ‘trick’ giving us Otto’s perspective on them. A simple light carefully placed can throw up a whole neighbourhood from the desktop. The use of well-placed shadow can heighten our and Otto’s fear as he dreads those things that go bump in the night.

McCubbin Howell’s script is a delight. It deals with a child’s depression and guilt, using the troll as a way of manifesting unhappiness, which keeps it in line with the darkness that fairy tales have. Peppered with 80s references it creates this sense of fairy tale and personal history and gives it a modernisation. This naivety provides the humour (I do wonder how long ‘dial up’ will get a laugh) but also this is a bittersweet foreshadowing as we can see the trolls and bullies looming in his inside, virtual and outside worlds. 

It may seem that there are few shows in Wellington that do not involve a Jon Coddington puppet, and of course it is great, though I would have liked a little more articulation. The design elements are all congruous, utilising what is around them and what the show is about. Cords, letter racks all become reused in some way. The cyc is mirrored in the use of a piece of cloth which is projected on, and then becomes, Amma’s shawl (brilliantly shown as a smoking shadow by Smith and voiced by Anya Tate-Manning) and finally a cape – so simple and so effective it doesn’t need anything else to support the endowment.

Tane Upjohn-Beatson’s sound fits in so superbly you don’t often realise it’s there. Sometimes industrial, sometimes 80s synth, it complements and supports as a soundtrack to the action.

Ralph McCubbin Howell takes on the majority of characters giving each its own life. The use of recorded dialogue allows for quick changes and both performers to catch their breath. This is not so much a show comprised of scenes as it is a storytelling and technical score that, once embarked on, doesn’t stop till we reach our destination.

Smith, McCubbin Howell and director Charlotte Bradley have put in the hours and it shows. While there might have been the odd lurch on opening night, it is a daunting piece to perform wherein you can’t take your eye off the ball. All three have created a wonderful show that has layers, skill and great storytelling with a meaning.

If you feel that I haven’t been revealing enough about the story or the way it is performed, it is because this is definitely one you want the delight of seeing. Not to be missed.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council
Waiematā Local Board logo