As we enter the Propeller Stage, the show’s name in large, neon green, pixelated text, looms on the back wall. The back wall is covered by a massive white curtain and it is already clear that Tröll has come a long way from the OHPs and squished seating arrangements of its original Fringe season that took place on the stairs of a flat in Te Aro. Ralph McCubbin Howell is typing on a keyboard at a desk, surrounded by an array of technological objects and a few lego figurines. The stage is covered in wires and cables that run to a desk that Hannah Smith is sitting at, with two laptops. There is a low electronic whirring that sets an eerie mood.
Otto receives a call from his sister, thrusting him back to his long-forgotten childhood using a single photo of his childhood home. We are transported instantly into the technological world of a young boy that’s filled with internet slang, mythology chat rooms and gaming references. As the trolls online slip into Otto’s real life at school and then at home, we are drawn further into his battle to survive and thrive. While his parents dismiss the scratching sounds in the walls, his grandmother takes Otto under her wing and tells him folk tales of Trolls to help him fight his own battles.
Trick of the Light have always been brilliant at creating complex characters that have so much personality that you feel as if you know them. Otto is the awkward nerdy little brother we all begrudgingly cherish. He constantly stays up all in night to talk to his online Knights of the Round Table pals and yet later manages to get the day off school by faking sick. However, sometimes Amma steals the show. She is the Icelandic, chain-smoking grandmother that no one ever knew they wanted in their life. She’s sarcastic, snarky and absolutely loveable. Anya Tate Manning’s voice acting is so superb that it allows us to sympathise more with Otto as he battles his own trolls.
Ralph McCubbin Howell has managed to write yet another show that’s storytelling at its finest. The show delights in plenty of nerdy references from internet slang, Boudica underpants and video game action sequences that make the narrative soar while allowing laughter to flow.
The amount of detail that has gone into every second of the show is clear through the fascinating lighting, imaginative shadows and terrifying puppetry. Although the show is a low-tech production with the use of phone lights, projectors and keyboards used as loop pedals, the team create an astonishing range of imagery that never leaves for a dull moment. The props and puppets are all upcycled everyday objects that have been transformed into wonderfully magical creations and creatures that adds to the atmosphere of show. The simplicity of tools, props and tech only highlights the creativity and ingenuity of Ralph McCubbin Howell, Hannah Smith and Charlotte Bradley and leaves the audience with a feeling of being awestruck long after leaving the theatre.
McCubbin Howell plays a variety of characters masterfully. With the help of recorded dialogue, he is able to switch between each character without even taking a breath and only using a single prop to identify each of them. His ingenious facial expressions add to the hilarity of nostalgic sound effects not to mention his ability to play up the naivety of Otto.
The complex choreography that McCubbin Howell and Smith perform effortlessly throughout the show is a testament to the director, Bradley’s skill and knowledge of theatre. The whole theatre is the canvas and it is used to its full advantage as every wall is used and Ralph runs up the stairs multiple times.
Tane Upjohn-Beatson’s electronic sound design and composition blends seamlessly into the world of the show. The compositions sound as if they were lifted straight out of the 80’s with the use of synths that mimic many early video games. The sound design is impeccably terrifying as the scratching in the walls pans around the theatre and the growling breath of the monster can be felt so close, that the audience are frozen still.
Tröll takes the audience on a thrilling ride with a monster that claws its way through chat rooms, a pixelated garden and into darkened hallways. It is an imaginative thriller that captures the audience throughout with its skilled choreographed lighting, impeccable sound and a story that will leave you with chills. Tröll is not to be missed.
Tröll is on until Saturday 7th April but you better get your tickets soon because it is bound to sell out. For more information, visit the BATS Theatre website.