At the edge of the world

WHAT WE DO WITH THE SHADOWS: Award-winning show The Road That Wasn’t There includes live performers, live music, rod puppetry and shadow puppets including the central Otago monster kopuwai who — well, you’ll just have to see for yourselves. Picture supplied
road that wasnt there
PERFORMERS AND PUPPETS: Old-school effects like shadow and light play, rod puppets, live performers, live music and a Kiwi gothic story for kids and adults slouches into Gisborne next week. Picture supplied

“This is a story about a girl who followed a map off the edge of the world,” says a voice-over in a YouTube promo for live show The Road That Wasn’t There. And now the show that features moa roaming the foothills, faeries who drink moonshine out of the back of Mitre 10, and a central Otago monster, is coming here, to the easternmost edge of the world.

The play involves shadow puppetry, rod puppetry, live performers and live music.

The story begins with Gabriel (Paul Waggot) who returns to his hometown in Otago to look after his ageing and more than eccentric mother Maggie (Elle Wootton). Before long she tells Gabriel about a road into town that was never built, his theatre-owner father and a sinister secret.

Maggie as a young girl is played by a puppet (handled by Wootton) who follows a paper road on the map.

“She goes to a paper town where there is a travelling theatre who put on this play and falls in with them — so it’s a play within a play,” says director Hannah Smith.

“The story is very much a narrative story. It moves along quite quickly.”

Instead of high-tech theatre, the show relies on a near archetypal story, a talented cast and old-school effects like shadow and light play, puppetry and music. Maps are draped like washing across the stage, one of which functions as a screen for the shadow puppetry.

Described in the show within a show as a “cautionary tale for your edification” The Road That Wasn’t There has an Alice in Wonderland magical-journey quality, says Smith. Somewhere in the story is the menacing central Otago monster, the kopuwai.

The kopuwai is part man, part dog and part reptile.

“They’re all baddies,” says Smith.

The Trick of the Light company walks that line between terror and entertainment. The story is rooted in New Zealand folklore but taps into the spookiness of the Grimms brothers’ fairy tales and the weirdness of Alice in Wonderland. In its mildly gothic atmosphere are echoes of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline or the movie Monster House.

“We recommend kids come with their parents or grandparents for when the show gets a bit ropey,” says Smith.

“Our best audiences are a mix of children and adults.”

At one performance, kids flocked to the front. When the show got a little... ropey they rejoined their adults. Then they went back down to the front again when the scary bit had passed.

Smith and partner Ralph McCubbin Howell were homesick and living on a shoestring in England when they conceived the show. McCubbin Howell had grown up in north Canterbury and as a child was fascinated by the notion of paper roads.

“There were a lot of paper roads in the area,” says Smith.

“They drew roads and towns on paper but they never got made. When we came to make the play and looked for something to launch the story this really resonated with us.”

The couple wanted to create a work that was quintessentially New Zealand so they naturally aimed for something dark, simple and elegant.

“It’s something to do with our sense of humour being so far away from the rest of the world,” says Smith.

“We have an interest in dark themes.”

When McCubbin Howell wrote the play he drew on a lot of classic fairy tale structures but because he and Smith had no money they reasoned a one-person show was the way to go.

“But he wrote it with 63 characters,” says Smith.

“Then we thought if we make puppets instead we don’t have to pay or feed them and there would be no arguments. Sometimes their heads fall off and they need surgery but that’s all. We developed our puppetry as our show developed.

“We are puppeteers of the DIY school. I made the puppets and they’re now in their third iteration so we have improved.”

To help develop their craft, performers McCubbin Howell, Wootton and Paul Waggott watched YouTube clips of puppetry and puppeteers.

“We’ve been doing this show since 2012 so they’ve had a long time to get good at it,” says Smith.

They must have got good quickly because in 2013 The Road That Wasn’t There earned the Chapman Tripp Theatre production of the year award.

Then they hit the road.

The Road That Wasn’t There, War Memorial Theatre, May 7, 1pm and 6pm. Tickets from Stephen Jones Photography and eventfinda.co.nz

“This is a story about a girl who followed a map off the edge of the world,” says a voice-over in a YouTube promo for live show The Road That Wasn’t There. And now the show that features moa roaming the foothills, faeries who drink moonshine out of the back of Mitre 10, and a central Otago monster, is coming here, to the easternmost edge of the world.

The play involves shadow puppetry, rod puppetry, live performers and live music.

The story begins with Gabriel (Paul Waggot) who returns to his hometown in Otago to look after his ageing and more than eccentric mother Maggie (Elle Wootton). Before long she tells Gabriel about a road into town that was never built, his theatre-owner father and a sinister secret.

Maggie as a young girl is played by a puppet (handled by Wootton) who follows a paper road on the map.

“She goes to a paper town where there is a travelling theatre who put on this play and falls in with them — so it’s a play within a play,” says director Hannah Smith.

“The story is very much a narrative story. It moves along quite quickly.”

Instead of high-tech theatre, the show relies on a near archetypal story, a talented cast and old-school effects like shadow and light play, puppetry and music. Maps are draped like washing across the stage, one of which functions as a screen for the shadow puppetry.

Described in the show within a show as a “cautionary tale for your edification” The Road That Wasn’t There has an Alice in Wonderland magical-journey quality, says Smith. Somewhere in the story is the menacing central Otago monster, the kopuwai.

The kopuwai is part man, part dog and part reptile.

“They’re all baddies,” says Smith.

The Trick of the Light company walks that line between terror and entertainment. The story is rooted in New Zealand folklore but taps into the spookiness of the Grimms brothers’ fairy tales and the weirdness of Alice in Wonderland. In its mildly gothic atmosphere are echoes of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline or the movie Monster House.

“We recommend kids come with their parents or grandparents for when the show gets a bit ropey,” says Smith.

“Our best audiences are a mix of children and adults.”

At one performance, kids flocked to the front. When the show got a little... ropey they rejoined their adults. Then they went back down to the front again when the scary bit had passed.

Smith and partner Ralph McCubbin Howell were homesick and living on a shoestring in England when they conceived the show. McCubbin Howell had grown up in north Canterbury and as a child was fascinated by the notion of paper roads.

“There were a lot of paper roads in the area,” says Smith.

“They drew roads and towns on paper but they never got made. When we came to make the play and looked for something to launch the story this really resonated with us.”

The couple wanted to create a work that was quintessentially New Zealand so they naturally aimed for something dark, simple and elegant.

“It’s something to do with our sense of humour being so far away from the rest of the world,” says Smith.

“We have an interest in dark themes.”

When McCubbin Howell wrote the play he drew on a lot of classic fairy tale structures but because he and Smith had no money they reasoned a one-person show was the way to go.

“But he wrote it with 63 characters,” says Smith.

“Then we thought if we make puppets instead we don’t have to pay or feed them and there would be no arguments. Sometimes their heads fall off and they need surgery but that’s all. We developed our puppetry as our show developed.

“We are puppeteers of the DIY school. I made the puppets and they’re now in their third iteration so we have improved.”

To help develop their craft, performers McCubbin Howell, Wootton and Paul Waggott watched YouTube clips of puppetry and puppeteers.

“We’ve been doing this show since 2012 so they’ve had a long time to get good at it,” says Smith.

They must have got good quickly because in 2013 The Road That Wasn’t There earned the Chapman Tripp Theatre production of the year award.

Then they hit the road.

The Road That Wasn’t There, War Memorial Theatre, May 7, 1pm and 6pm. Tickets from Stephen Jones Photography and eventfinda.co.nz

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.

Poll

  • Voting please wait...
    Your vote has been cast. Reloading page...
    Do you agree with the call from Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones for Gisborne to be developed as a wood-processing hub?