The Road That Wasn't There

The truth about fairy tales, all too often forgotten by us grown-ups, is that the best ones are meant to be scary, albeit in an ultimately reassuring context. This is clearly something that Ralph McCubbin Howell understands well, in his eerie story of never-built roadways and lost towns, for New Zealand-based theatre company Trick of the Light. The result is a delightfully dark adventure, engrossing, entertaining and emotionally touching in equal measure.

A captivating, engrossing tale using a mixture of broad performance, puppets and old-style silhouette “animation” to tell Maggie’s story

Within a set of draped maps, hanging like washing, we’re introduced to Gabriel (Paul Waggot), who is persuaded to return home to St Bathans, Otago, New Zealand (a former gold-mine town “by the upside-down hill”) to take care of his elderly mother Maggie (Ellie Wootton). Always slightly different, and full of fanciful stories, Maggie’s begun to steal a wide variety of maps from libraries and bookshops. Gabriel’s first reaction is to move her into the aptly-named Dusty Corners Rest Home, but after she climbs on the roof, Maggie decides it’s time to tell Gabriel about his father.

At first Gabriel is dismissive of her story, of her discovering a road into town that, according to her parents, was never built—although it was marked on some maps 40 years earlier. Then she shares her meeting with handsome young man Walter, and his theatre-owning father, and how maps are key to accessing “the World that might have been”. When her “key” is taken from her, she draws her own map; this turns out to be a mistake which brings her to the attention of a malicious, monstrous version of Walter who’s determined to make her his bride.

With McCubbin Howell himself providing a range of supporting characters, this small cast (under Hannah Smith’s pitch-perfect direction) successfully weaves a captivating, engrossing tale using a mixture of broad performance, puppets and old-style silhouette “animation” to tell Maggie’s story—each style distinctive in its narrative role and, with Tane Upjohn-Beatson’s evocative music and sound design, creating a whole bigger than its parts: a tad melancholic perhaps, but full of hope and understanding.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

This is a story about a girl who followed a map off the edge of the world... In New Zealand there are some 56,000 kilometres of paper roads – streets and towns that exist only on surveyors' maps. Or do they? From the makers of The Bookbinder comes an award-winning dark fairytale combining puppetry, shadow-play, and music. Best Children's Event (Fringe World and Adelaide Fringe 2016), Outstanding New NZ Play (Chapman Tripps 2013). A captivating crossover work in the vein of Neil Gaiman and Pan's Labyrinth, for adults and older children 8+. Part of