Meet outside Taproom (91 Aro Street), Wellington
12/02/2017 - 15/02/2017
Little Andromeda, Level 1/134 Oxford Terrace, Central City, Christchurch
05/03/2020 - 07/03/2020
Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington
09/03/2019 - 09/03/2019
19/10/2017 - 20/10/2017
Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington
13/07/2019 - 20/07/2019
Lawson Field Theatre, Gisborne
04/10/2020 - 04/10/2020
Capital E National Arts Festival 2019
Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2020
NZ Fringe Festival 2017 [reviewing supported by WCC]
“There’s a cable leading into your wall that wasn’t there before.
Something’s scratching behind the power sockets.
Things are disconnecting…”
After touring the world with their previous work, award-winning Wellington company Trick of the Light Theatre is heading back home with their latest production – literally. Entitled TROLL, this brand new one-man performance will be staged at the foot of the stairs of their flat in Aro Valley for a strictly limited audience. Combining storytelling, music, and puppetry, this lo-fi wi-fi fable runs from February 12-15 as part of NZ Fringe.
The company are no strangers to performing shows in intimate, site-specific spaces. Their award-winning play The Bookbinder has taken them around the world, with venues ranging from attics and bars, to 16th century English libraries. TROLL is an uncanny tale of the digital age, which brings the innovative design and intricate narrative that delighted audiences with The Bookbinder into the contemporary world. Inventive staging transforms the devices we use everyday – smartphones become light sources, laptops turn into skyscrapers, and charger cords morph into puppets. It tells a tale both mythic and modern in the vein of David Mitchell (Black Swan Green).
When their original venue was cordoned off due to the demolition of the Reading Cinema carpark, writer/performer Ralph McCubbin Howell and director Hannah Smith decided to take matters into their own hands. “The play is set in an old house in Aro Valley. Where better to stage it than an old house in Aro Valley?” says Smith. “Staging the play at the foot of a staircase was our original concept. When the earthquakes put paid to our other venue, it seemed a sign to bring it back home.”
Be the first to see the development season of this exciting new work at NZ Fringe from Feb 12-15. The best trolls lurk under bridges and stairways, and fittingly we are staging this show at the foot of our stairs. As this is an intimate, site-specific location, we can’t promise plush theatre seating. Please contact Fringe if you have any accessibility requirements and we will strive to meet your needs.
The show is koha however seats are extremely limited – reserve a seat for $5 to make sure you’re not disappointed. Visit www.fringe.co.nz
“Trick of the Light manage to conjure a truly rare thing; a story about magic that actually feels magical.” Uther Dean, The Wireless
Meet outside Taproom (91 Aro Street) 5 minutes before show time.
Get there early and you can present your ticket at the bar for a discounted drink.
12 – 15 February 2017
6pm & 8:30pm (45mins)
Tauranga Arts festival 2017
Baycourt X Space
Thursday 19th October, 07:30pm
Friday 20th October, 07:30pm
Adult $21, Children $16
(TECT $17, $13)
Website: trickofthelight.co.nz | Facebook: /trickofthelighttheatre | Twitter: @stagetrick
“Layers, skill and great storytelling with a meaning. TRÖLL is a complex, funny, moving and dark tale peppered with 1990s references. The 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.” – Theatreview, Wellington
“An absolute delight, jam-packed with fast-paced narrative and some incredibly clever visuals.” Fringe Feed, Perth
Soundings Theatre, Te Papa
Saturday 9 March 2019
$16.50 to $19.50
GIVE US A CALL
BOOK 3 SHOWS FOR THE PRICE OF 2!
13 – 20 July 2019 – School Holidays
Tues – Sat 7pm; Sun 4.30pm
+ Thurs 18 – Sat 20 extra 1pm Matinees
Adults $25 | Concession/Industry $20 | Kids $10
School/Holiday Programme group booking: $9 per student
One adult free with every 10 students (min. 10 students)
Recommended age 10+
“I’m stoked to be able to bring two such different works to my home town,” says McCubbin Howell. “I got my first taste of professional theatre performing with the Court Jesters, so I’m over the moon Lysander’s Aunty is premiering at The Court. Meanwhile Little Andromeda is the perfect space for Tröll – intimate, buzzy, and smack in the centre of town.It’s the kind of venue that the city’s been wanting for ages. We can’t wait to come and play.”
“merging magic realism, sharp writing and brilliant performances
to deliver an inspiring work that is both comedic and profoundly compassionate.”
★★★★★ FringeFeed (Australia)
“this belter of a play has the undoubted capacity to blow world audiences away.”
Children’s Weekly Award Winner and West Arts Editor Weekly Award Winner – Fringe World, 2019
Outstanding Theatre Award Winner – Fringe Review, Edinburgh, 2019
5 – 7 March 2020
Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2020
LAWSON FIELD THEATRE
Sunday 4th Oct 2020
2pm & 5pm
A Reserve $25 + fees
A Reserve (Friend) $22.50 + fees
Concession $22.50 + fees
Children $15 + fees
Want to purchase in person? Drop in and see the team at the Gisborne iSite (Grey St, Gisborne).
Theatre , Solo , Site-specific/site-sympathetic ,
A captivating old fashioned, modern fairytale
Review by Rosie Cairns 05th Oct 2020
Otto emerges from the shadows, illuminated by the electric green glow synonymous with screen time in the ’90s. Ralph McCubbin Howell’s portrayal of a twelve-year-old boy – thirteen online – is immediately endearing. He may not be faring well ‘IRL’, but his passion for the Dark Ages, chat groups, and his longing for connection have us all on his side. He’s lonely, but perky! After all, “No one’s a dick on the internet!” Right?
His addiction to the internet has him up early. Remember how difficult dialup was? The scene is set sparsely: a darkened room, desk, laptop and lamp take centre stage with a giant screen projected behind. I eagerly anticipate how Trick of the Light will wield these props.
We watch Otto as he shares his story with us. Mundane items are masterfully transformed by the glow of a mobile phone, dark shadows show silhouettes of his home, tiny helpless puppets get swept away into nothingness. We jump when static blasts and cables twist around his legs as he reacts to strange sounds in the wall…
Trolls. “Under the bridge, under a stone, in the walls, underneath your skin.” Ama knows. She rasps mythical truths in a swathe of smoke from her sleep out. This Icelandic grandmother has the best lines. Hannah Smith should be credited as a performer. Otto’s hunt for rats and possums, shining his flashlight in our eyes, proves fruitless and he doubts her. He’s too clever to believe in trolls. “The smart arse ones taste sweeter,” she warns. He takes strength from her folklore and their alliance as he fears the inevitable battle with the troll in the wall. Will it be enough? Will he disappear?
As designer and operator, again Smith deserves applause. So smooth with her movement, lights and props, it is a pleasure to see her slip in and out of the action. Every single item is craftily repurposed, the lo-fi technology is almost whimsical, but the cleverness never diverts from the narrative. Because most importantly, this is an old fashioned, modern fairytale.
There is magic and humour, sparklers of pure silliness that my young one gleefully giggles along with. The younger amongst the audience are delighted and terrified by the troll, and they whisper questions about the technology to those of us old enough to know what a fax is. But evil takes many forms.
Trolls, social media trolls, and depression. Internet connection, and real connection. I adore how this play imagines the evolution of the troll, from beneath the bridge, through the wires, to behind the profile picture. Equally, I value how it analogises disconnection and depression and provides an opportunity for people to reflect on their own ‘trolls’ and to reach out in the darkness.
Troll has heart. Take a friend. You’ll be captivated.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
A near-perfect little nugget of mythic storytelling
Review by Erin Harrington 06th Mar 2020
It’s increasingly easy to make shows that combine digital effects and performance technologies to create an expansive sense of spectacle; that privilege whizzbangery and sensation at the expense of meaningful storytelling. Trick of the Light’s latest offering, Tröll, moves in the opposite direction. It is a delightful, techno-magical realist fable that combines Icelandic folklore and the long history of haunted technology with a very grounded story about a young boy who is struggling with bullying, isolation and change.
It’s 1998 and enthusiastic twelve year old Ottó (played by writer Ralph McCubbin Howell) finds a place for himself on internet chatrooms, where he can be who he wants, share his obsession with Dark Ages history and avoid the real-world terrors of PE. He lives in an old wooden house with his sister and parents in a deep hillside valley; his chain-smoking Icelandic granny, Amma, lives in a dim sleepout.
At the same time as he receives an ominous message in the previously welcoming chatroom, he realises that there is something in the walls – something that might be the sort of malevolent troll that stole Amma’s sister away when she was a child. Real-world fears spill into digital space and vice versa, and as Ottó’s anxiety and sense of isolation grows, so does the monster.
Tröll, as directed by Charlotte Bradley, is impeccably crafted, creating a clear sense of Ottó’s everyday life and internal world. More traditional forms of manual and shadow puppetry, some of which elicit little gasps of wonder, are combined with well-designed digital effects and animation. These are projected onto the stage space, the walls, and sometimes Ottó himself. There is a push-pull relationship between large and small as houses and monsters are made out of miniature objects, and the vast expanse of the pre-millennium internet is shrunk down to an enticing, and perhaps threatening, square of blue light. The world is filtered, and understood, through Otto’s interests, in which the old meets the new: video games, pop culture, his obsession with Queen Boudica.
I saw Tröll’s development run in 2018, and it’s here that you can see the most enrichment, as the layers of background detail and 8-bit, green-screen monochrome display plant us further within Ottó’s sense of time and place. This means that the show, while drawing clearly on a sense of techno-nostalgia (for which I’m definitely in the demographic sweet spot), isn’t really interested in wallowing in fond memories of the past. Instead, it offers a sense of the way that we build worlds for ourselves out of the material of our lives, be that the narratives of Super Mario or our grandmother’s stories. In doing so, it reminds us that isolation, and the sense of connection that might save us, are not era-specific.
McCubbin Howell gives a beautifully modulated performance as Ottó. It’s funny and charming, sometimes a little cartoony and blusterous, but also moving, as he grapples with uncertainty and family tragedy. This show takes seriously the experiences and pain of a child, without ever pandering or being dismissive. He’s supported onstage by the production’s designer Hannah Smith, who operates the show with an enticing mix of analogue and digital tools. She also steps in to two key family roles – one of whom, Ottó’s prickly, chain-smoking Icelandic Amma, is voiced digitally in absentia by Anya Tate-Manning. It’s a neat conceit that adds to the show’s wry sense of the uncanny.
The production design, too, is exquisite. McCubbin Howell thanks us at the end for coming to their ‘little show’, but it’s as rich as any large, mainstage production, and all the more successful for its concentrated sense of intimacy. Tane Upjohn Beatson’s evocative, sympathetic sound design melds ominous, cinematic scoring with some great digital effects that go straight to my late 1990s lizard brain. Lighting design (Marcus McShane) and projection design (Charley Draper) offer a seamless sense of the domestic world, as well as Ottó’s subjective, game-loving experience.
There are no gimmicks for their own sake; there is a clear sense of why the story is being told this way. The production also makes much greater use of the relatively Spartan space and technology at Little Andromeda than anything else that’s been staged there. This speaks, if anything, to the production’s proven capacity to tour, dragging its sense of enchantment along behind it. There’s a few issues with sightlines, though, during sequences where action takes place on the floor, especially some involving a cable and a puppet.
Tröll is a near-perfect little nugget of mythic storytelling that scuttles round the haunted edges of adolescence and memory. It’s a joy to experience again, and seeing how the trick is done doesn’t make it any less magical.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Not one minute of this fine little show is wasted
Review by Dave Smith 14th Jul 2019
As the audience shuffles into Circa Two they are confronted with a stage area that has all the soul-sapping appearance of an Access Radio station in Bulls.
In essence it is a standard desk with messy black cables running everywhere; a studio shambles you wouldn’t want the listeners ever to know about. How can drama come out of this (you silently ask)? Maybe having the play run only 55 minutes is the best-considered part of it.
Enter Trick of the Light who next week will be taking Troll to the Edinburgh Fringe. What happens over the next 55 minutes in this belter of a play has the undoubted capacity to blow world audiences away.
The company is aptly named. That clunky assemblage of electronic waste that purports to be the set is but the yin. It needs some magical yang. TOTL have that in spades. The keyword is light.
This is used (in a mature alliance with sound) to such devastating effect in every one of the precious minutes onstage, it is almost a crass spoiler to talk about. But what it does is use banal objects to expand and contract time and space so that at the end we feel as though we have seen something akin to an arthouse film. One that transports the central character Otto (a Wellington-based 12 year old) out of a tiny room into a crisis in his personal journey from boy to adult.
This is the earlier days of when even smart twelve year olds were trammeled by dial-up modems and heads full of clunky IT jargon that has now been smoothed by time. Author (and definitely twelve years plus) Ralph McCubbin Howell, in a back-to-front cap, convincingly plays his nerdy creation as a winsome and vulnerable lad who is now actually sleeping in the computer annex of his “new but old” house somewhere on an unnamed Wellington promontory.
What goes through the computer establishes date and time on the cyclorama. Often it shows 4 am. This is the first step in creating an extra dimension with Otto sealed inside, virtually as his own case study. Direct light is then used on his constantly lively face to flatten him onto a virtual screen at stage centre. This transforms into an electronic effect all its own. But wait, there’s more…
Using only the hand-held back light on a cellphone as an onstage light changer, Otto visually tells the tale of his tiny suburban life. The life is small – the effect is huge. Hold the phone this way and we see the street and house he lives in, in the form of a miniature front-lit shadow theatre. That reveals the seemingly random hardware mess as a carefully-contrived scenic construct. Tilting up the computer terminal and the LED grid on the base serves as the future block of flats that will replace the family house. Pure genius. I hate to say more. TOTL thought all this up, so they deserve the audience kudos when it happens!
So now is good moment to introduce the human factor. All this props cleverness and use of time and space is put to a crucial and living purpose. Otto uses light and recorded sound in conjunction with exquisitely mimed conversation through a backlit, and thus transparent, newspaper. This expands the cast list of (generally, as the Operator occasionally chips in) one. It lets us in on the goss about the family. This reveals that Mum and Dad are about as much use as a chocolate teapot to Otto and his sister. The heartfelt centre of Otto’s short life is his Amma (grandma) who abides in the family sleep-out across the way from the computer room.
Otto has a close-to-telepathic communication with Amma (who obliging comes from Iceland where trolls roam the streets at night). Voiced by Anya Tate-Manning, we only hear Amma but never see her. We learn she enthusiastically smokes too much, fatally so. The Operator (Hannah Smith/Isobel McKinnon) does some vaping for atmosphere.
Amma herself is headed gleefully for the grave but has one last important service to perform for the family. She will usher the “unpopular at school” Otto through the painful and seismic time of adult growth with the unwilling help of a troll that has somehow go into the wall and the computer cables. (Computers and trolls, as we all know, have a natural and strong affinity).
Nordic ladies have northern hemisphere trolls at their fingertips. These eat children and need a radical seeing-to using all the violence and ruthlessness of a robust computer game. Don’t forget to use the spacebar to get ’em between the legs, as it were. Otto and gran converse warmly on a range of topics but always Amma is the tough cookie.
I soon begin to see her as the Spring and Autumn voice of rough and tumble. Her recipe for troll evisceration sounds comfortingly like the gnarled old gran who has no time for those gutless padded play areas. She’s the type who encourages her grandchildren to “go higher” or “fall off and break something of you’ll never grow up” while parents vegetate in dull Health & Safety Land. Her thick Icelandic voice is redolent of impending mortality but with Otto… she rocks.
And here we go back to the visual dimension. Many of us are rightly disheartened by the way American films overuse special effects to the point where the medium becomes a deadening over-loud message. Here, the pinpoint use of light and Dolby-like sound are perfectly wedded to action and thought, wherein timing is all.
Living in a seismic zone Otto simulates a quake in which his hanging computer light is propelled by his hand to shake the entire set into dangerously kinetic life. The troll has been twice seen and all I dare to say he is marvellous in all his tangled cable brilliance. Otto is bathed and ‘cleansed’ in luminescent green pixels that run giddily across his floor and up the wall. Breath-taking moments of true theatre; and there are so many of them.
Not one minute of this fine little show is wasted. It is finely plotted and wonderfully integrated by Charlotte Bradley and Hannah Smith. It is thoroughly professional at all of its finely tuned levels. This superb team effort enables better-than-worthy ideas about youth, age and the human condition to explode in a small space akin to a big-bang creation of a new universe. It will do us proud as a sophisticated theatrical nation when it hits Edinburgh. From here, I already sense the Scotties cheering their tartan bonnets off.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Suffers from lack of intimacy
Review by John Smythe 10th Mar 2019
Tröll premiered two years ago as a very intimate show, playing to audiences of 10 at the foot of the stairs in the Aro Street flat of Ralph McCubbin Howell (writer and performer) and Hannah Smith (designer, performer and operator). The intended venue in lower Tory Street, slightly larger but still intimate, had suddenly been closed because the earthquake-damaged Readings car park was being demolished.
By contrast the cavernous Soundings Theatre at Te Papa is not in the least bit intimate. Also, in total contrast with Swamp Juice, another Capital E National Arts Festival show billed for the 7+ demographic, Tröll is very verbal and not overtly interactive. While my two seven year-old companions are reasonably attentive, the substantive content of this show is beyond them. (I’d suggest age 9 at the youngest and more like 11+.)
Of course the experience of moving house and being bullied at school, not to mention having a somewhat alienating chain-smoking grandmother from a far-away land lurking in the sleep-out, can happen at any age. But 12 year-old Otto (personified by Ralph) seeks refuge, in the early hours of the mornings, in an internet chatroom where what at first seems friendly eventually turns nasty – i.e. he is trolled.
That all this is set in 1998, when the internet was on dial-up, offers jokes that only adults will get. Of course every generation grows up with stories of yesteryear so I guess that’s fair enough, although I’m guessing younger audiences would find it easier to imagine landline telephones, telegrams, cowboys on horseback, etc, than a heard-but-not-seen dial-up internet connection.
Mind you, the other tröll in the story is also heard but not seen – until it is. Otto’s Dad blames the strange noises in the wall on the ‘cowboys’ who wired their new old house. Amma, the Icelandic grandmother, however, tells Otto it is a tröll and makes no bones about the terrible things trölls can do.
Otto’s mother and sister, Erika, are also voiced by Ralph with clever utilisation of shadow effects and projections – and Hannah is always visible as the operator of various elements of technology, which would be a more fascinating component of the show in a more intimate setting. Likewise it’s a shame the skeletal Tröll is so far away when it finally appears. (The media pack reveals it is made from charger cables – but we are in no position to realise that.)
As with The Road that Wasn’t There and The Bookbinder, I appreciate the quality of spoken story, language-wise, but this time – probably because the amplified words take precedence over the visual elements – it begins to feel over-written. I yearn for some space in which to feel and empathise rather than just be told about it.
Also I can’t help but wonder if there couldn’t be more fun to be had in this retrospective recollection of a particular stage in a young boy’s life, even though fear, guilt and embarrassment are important elements of his experience at the time. So too is his chosen heroic role-model, Boudicca, and the seismic vanquishing of the allegorical tröll.
While I’m open to being corrected on this, I find it bewildering and a bit disturbing that adult Erika’s epilogue (played by Hannah) – a now-time reflection on returning to the old house – refers to Otto’s depression. Nothing in Capital E’s publicity or media pack mentions a mental health dimension. Surely Tröll is part of a centuries-old tradition of telling highly imaginative and scary stories that honour the way children on the cusp of puberty process experiences, by way of developing resilience.
I’d be interested to know how school groups respond to this show, and how its themes will be followed up.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Brilliant, dark, funny, poignant: never fails to delight
Review by Vivienne Quinn 20th Oct 2017
I am sooo loving spooky stuff right now. Not horror, or gruesome splatter stuff – but the slowly realised spookiness of childhood fantasy. For me, as a 70s kid, this experience was achieved through experiencing Under the Mountain and the Wilberforces, Sapphire and Steel or Dr Who. Terrifying stuff, yet I couldn’t get enough. Ghostly, mysterious, and weird stories from different lands, times and universes, which made the world deeper and more appealing to me. This is still the case.
Troll fits the bill perfectly. Set in a different decade to the one I grew up in – late 90s – it adds the complications of early cyber chat rooms, which add an extra layer or torment to the pain and displacement of growing up and fitting in. Described in the programme as “low fi wi fi”, lighting and projection effects are used here in a simple yet highly effective manner.
Creators Ralph McCubbin Howell, Hannah Smith, and Director Charlotte Bradley capture the era perfectly: dial up tones, cheap cigarettes, Nokia phones; bullying, mocking laughter; secrets exposed along with novelty undies in the school changing rooms.
McCubbin Howell is excellent as a 12 year old boy clinging to histories, mysteries and mythologies of far away and far beyond; slowly realising that some of these myths may be creeping up behind him, hiding in the walls.
I just love this show. It is brilliant, dark, funny and poignant. But mostly it is clever. Subtle and slight: very much a trick of the light.
Trick of the Light Theatre never fail to delight and intrigue, and they are masters of puppetry, shadow show and story-telling. This is a definite must see – and take the kids too, appropriate for ages 12 plus.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Mythical and modern
Review by Ewen Coleman 16th Feb 2017
Known for bringing both creative and innovative theatre to the stage, Trick of The Light have developed a somewhat more low-key and less ambitious, but no less fascinating show for this year’s New Zealand Fringe Festival with their production of Troll.
Performed in a secret location in Aro Valley, getting to the venue and being seated was an event in itself, Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith relate the story of 12-year-old Otto, who lives in an old house in the Valley with his mum and dad, two sisters and his Amma (his grandmother) and how he gets up at 4am to creep down to play on the computer. [More]
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Foundations laid for a great show
Review by Michael Trigg 15th Feb 2017
It’s 2017 and, for many, the word ‘Troll’ invokes images of online bullies; of inflammatory or provocative interactions with others on the web, in pursuit of creating as much upset as possible. Troll’s programme reminds us how mainstream this ideology has become: “Right now we live with a troll for a president, and leaders who propagate fiction.”
But remember when a troll was nothing more than a goat-terrorising, bridge-dwelling folk tale creature? Or, perhaps, a fantasy literature trope – the unintelligent cannon fodder for writers like Tolkien, Pratchett, and Rowling; a creature from fiction, nothing to do with the real world? Unless, that is, you’re from Iceland. Or anywhere with a solid Norse folklore. Then the worlds of reality and mythology start to blur…
Somewhere in Aro Valley, sometime in the 90s, Otto is up at 4am to get some quality internet time to himself. No fights with his sisters, no phone calls to interrupt the dial-up, no fax to ruin everything. The world wide web is all his – in particular the Medieval History chatrooms, where people can have different names (“One guy’s just called “INTERNET!”), different ages (“I say I’m 13, but I’m actually 12!”)and, most importantly, “Nobody is a dick on the internet!” The worst thing that can happen is to be called CFAR (Cool For A Roman). It’s actually an insult though.
As the painful pattern of the dial-up connection blasts us back 20-odd years, we enter young Otto’s world – where the online meets the mythological meets the real world. “This is a play about mythology in the digital age.”
We’re sitting on the staircase of a flat in Aro Valley: home to Trick of the Light’s Hannah Smith and Ralph McCubbin Howell and our makeshift “cramped death-trap of a theatre” for the evening. Given Troll is billed as a “lo-fi wifi fable,” it is fitting that we take our places on the stairs like Tetris pieces (there’s only one way that all 10 audience members can fit on the stairs). And we see the lo-fi aesthetic that informs this 90s tale from the get-go: the performance space at the bottom of the stairs is scattered with throwbacks like Walkmans and OHPs (design by Smith and McCubbin Howell).
As we’ve come to expect from Trick of the Light, everything is there for a reason. McCubbin Howell’s Otto will tell most of the story; Smith spends most of the show in the technical engine room that is wedged at the bottom of the stairs – nose to grindstone operating countless OHP backdrops, sound cues, flicking on various miniature torches, and flying a lamp in and out of Otto’s world.
It is intensive and fiddly work, so we have plenty of room for forgiveness when things go slightly wrong. And so much of this design pays off really nicely – they’ve squeezed every possible use out of ye auld OHP, and some of it is genius. The use of iPhone torches is the only anachronism – most likely a result of time/financial pressure.
Otto lives with his family, and these characters are represented through various forms. His two sisters are the Walkman and cassette tape, while his parents are 2D shadows on the back wall – physically and figuratively distinguished from the world of Troll. Amma, his grandmother who represents the Icelandic family roots, is statically represented by Smith – and voiced by Trick of the Light collaborator Anya Tate-Manning. (Erin Banks and Tom Clarke voice the parents). The sound design (Tane Upjohn-Beatson and Anna Edgington) is ominous and brooding, and influences the show perfectly.
We spend a lot of time establishing the world around Otto – often in great detail, and occasionally with beautifully poetic language. Again, I’m expecting that everything is there for a reason – especially when elements reoccur and ask us to find connections between them. I find myself trying to do just that – wondering if there’s anything in the lyrics of Quinn the Eskimo, or if the fact that real world schoolmates are using online slang (CFAR) means we’ve suddenly merged the worlds.
Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of these details simply serve to colour the world around Otto – and a lot of the 40-minute show is dedicated to this – leaving a lot of the conflict and action of the story to take place in the last quarter. Some loose cables are tied up (mostly by Smith, who has a lovely turn as elder sister Erika at the end), but many are still sparking.
Director Smith and writer McCubbin Howell (story idea by both) are open about this being a development season, and that the show is a work in progress – and that’s surely what Fringe is all about. You only have to look at previous Trick of the Light shows like The Bookbinder (another dark fairy tale) to see that model proving itself a roaring success.
Troll is a good show, but it could be great. I think the key to that lies in the narrative – and it may require clearing away extraneous details, identifying and eliminating the red herrings, and tightening up the many cultural and historical references throughout.
I feel like I’m just coming to terms with the nature of the story’s antagonist, and then it’s defeated. I really need to know more about this ‘troll’ – what does it mean for it to “get inside someone’s skin?” Is there a connection to the Icelandic mythology that Amma tells Otto so much about? What about the histories that Otto is so into – why Boudicca?
Between the earthquakes (or not), demolitions (or not), references to volcanoes and giants, I’m not sure which information I should be applying, and which I should be ignoring. A land shaped by giant creatures that are still alive, causing earthquakes and volcanoes – is there a connection to Māori mythology? There are lots of allusions, but very few actually evolve into themes or narrative signifiers.
Why does the troll need to plug itself in to others’ computers, if it’s a physical sentient being that simply wants to “feed”? What does the troll’s outcome mean to the 2017 world in which the play ends? It seems like the problem is solved – but anyone who’s ever been on the internet will know that the opposite is true.
Yes, ambiguity can be good – but I find there is just a bit too much in this iteration of Troll. Or maybe I’ve just missed some key moments that would answer these questions.
The show is entertaining and interesting – there’s no question. There are moments of brilliant stage magic, and the location is wonderful. Where else could a performer climb the bannister of the staircase, above his audience, while they pass his illuminating phone among them to follow his journey? McCubbin Howell delivers another wonderful performance as the storytelling charmer, and Smith’s direction is mostly clever and clear – particularly in relation to the lo-fi tech that is employed. I can’t wait to see this show in its refined form, because the foundations are all there.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer