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April 16, 2018 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Tröll

Think Coraline, Stranger Things, and Wreck It Ralph, smashed into a late nineties internet tale with Icelandic monsters: that was Tröll.

Tröll follows Otto (Ralph McCubbin Howell), a twelve year old boy in love with the internet because he can choose his own name, be thirteen, and actually like the stuff he likes and not feel ashamed of it.

Otto lives with his parents, his sister (Hannah Smith), and his Icelandic grandmother, Amma. Strange noises are heard from the walls of his house, which develop into a troll, which becomes bigger when Otto doesn’t take care of it. Meanwhile, Amma feeds him stories of Iceland and their monsters. “But how could there be a troll in New Zealand?” asks Otto. “These cables are like ropes for trolls to climb,” says Amma.

As Otto isolates himself more, the troll in the wall grows bigger, and suddenly the internet is not a fun place full of friends who also want to discuss questions about the dark ages, but “dicks” (people, not the anatomy) who are, as we know, trolls. The kids at school start to tease him, and he’s embarrassed about having Boudica as his idol, and his chain-smoking Amma is dying of lung cancer. The troll is a metaphor for depression: a thing that grows in the dark, looming at the edges of the mind, and can only be turned to stone and killed by exposure to sunlight.

Otto’s mother catches him in the computer room one morning, asking if he’d stayed there all night. There is a beautiful moment captured by McCubbin Howell’s lyrical words where the troll has taken his tongue and he can’t speak, until suddenly all his words pour out of him and he tells his mother everything. This is a very familiar moment, when you feel like you should tell someone but you either don’t know how or are too afraid to do so, but speaking about it is always the first step.

Trick of the Light Theatre is an award-winning company made of two Victoria University Theatre and English Department alum – sigh! My dream! The script was clever at weaving together plot points and metaphors, and the theatrical and tech elements were eye-catching. Trick of the Light is known for shadow puppetry and puppetry in general; this show had only one puppet, the baby troll, but it used shadows effectively to display the house and street where the story takes place — Otto walking through the streets, as well as shadow depictions of Otto’s parents. There were other cool green projections reminiscent of the nineties computer screens, dial up internet (yup, I remember dial up, do you?), and old computer games.

I loved the idea of depression manifesting in a mythical Nordic creature like a troll, but I do wonder if the internet references are accessible to tweens today. They are certainly accessible to adults.

I was dissatisfied with the ending. The play finishes with Otto’s sister, now an adult in present time, narrating her trip to their old house. During the whole play, she didn’t have much of a personality, so I wasn’t very engaged when she took control of the stage.

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