It’s opening night for Trick of the Light’s newest show The Griegol and Te Auaha is alive. After a few cancellations due to Covid, we’re finally lucky enough to see this show in Poneke, and boy does it live up to the hype.
The set is stripped back and gives off the feeling of a noir film, with a large screen in the back that’s used for various projections, shadow puppets, and anything else you can think of. A station is set up on the left-hand side with what looks like one of those OHP projectors from primary school, and I’m delighted to find that it is (sort of) but it can do far, far more than those dinosaurs. We’re transported into this world from the moment we walk into the theatre with the way it opens and locks the door behind us through meticulous curation of the atmosphere. We’re in for a ride.
The play opens with a striking musical arrangement, accompanied by Tristain Carter playing the violin to add to the eerie atmosphere. What follows is a wordless but incredibly rich story about a child (Stevie Hancox-Monk) dealing with the loss of their Grandmother (Elle Wootton) while being haunted by the smokey demon from grandma’s stories – The Griegol.
We get to see a week in the child’s life played out through a puppet for a lot of the play, their relationships with various family members and how the presence of grief continues to linger in their lives, whether they’re aware of it or not. The puppet is one of my favourite elements of the show, Hancox-Monk expertly puppeteering and emoting alongside this doll, giving it an unmissable sense of aliveness.
The relationship between the child and their father (Paul Waggott) is especially touching as we bear witness to this hole that’s been punctured in their lives. I found myself longing for the kind of hug you can only get from your dad by the end of it, I think we all did.
The Griegol itself is one of the most incredible parts of the show. Always accompanied by tense violin and a general feeling of unease, it appears as sometimes a black demon animated amongst the projected world, but also as a cloud of smoke behind someone’s eyes who is being held in the demon’s grip. Even more interesting, is all of this smoke they use is created with vapes to emulate the thick smoke that you’d ordinarily see with a haze machine. These small scale smokey shadows were mesmerising, the way they licked at the corners of every shadow is something I won’t soon forget – don’t even get me started on the smoke filled bubbles.
The direction by Hannah Smith is phenomenal. Smith has achieved a level of cohesion with these actors that this kind of performance desperately needs, while also allowing the performers to lean into their natural talents and quirks as performers, which is a real treat to see. Each of them have moments where they shine, I’d be hard pressed to choose a favourite part!
These fundamental human elements of the story are what make this play such a joy to watch. The children in the audience are captivated by the dynamism created by the scenography, and the adults are watching in silent solemnity as we all remember the stories we’ve been told by those who aren’t here any more. This deep sadness at the heart of this performance is lightened by the visual splendour and inventive storytelling that leaves me teary eyed and smiling. Everyone else looks pretty similar.
The Griegol is for all the kids who loved Coraline but couldn’t watch it at sleepovers because the other kids got scared. It’s also for all the adults who still – despite years of knowing that these stories aren’t true – feel that tingle up their spine when they’re reminded of a superstition baked into them from childhood. Trick of the Light do what they do best, they invite us into their mystical world and, by the end, leave us feeling like we’ve witnessed some real life magic.