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Edinburgh Fringe 2017

The Road That Wasn’t There

Trick of the Light / Zanetti Productions

Genre: Family, Puppetry, Theatre

Venue: Assembly Roxy


Low Down

“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.”


A fable that comes alive told through puppetry, storytelling, shadow play and live music. Based on a story by Ralph McCubbin Howell and directed by Hannah Smith, we follow the life of Maggie, a young girl as she discovers things aren’t how she thinks they are, or should be regarding several things as she grows up, including the truth about paths on maps. Fables and fairy tales are stories, which contain animals or monsters among other things, and they always illustrate a reason for being such as to offer a moral or teach about life.

The set is attractive and fascinating, it is very clever and comprises huge maps made of paper strung up across rope, like washing drying on a line, but larger. In one corner at the front of the stage are lots of cardboard boxes. Everything doubles as something else in this production, therefore, the cardboard boxes contain stuff but also transform into furniture. The paper maps become the screen for the shadow puppets in one of the most effective design elements of the play. Paper is a driving force as a material in this show, like maps, which is everywhere in the design.

There are three different kinds of puppets in the play and they look very different, all built by Hannah Smith. The main characters, Maggie and her parents are played by textured rod puppets with papier-mâché faces with wool hair, and a set of lively characters all made of paper with crepe paper hair, and the monster and other characters and symbols are made with shadow puppets, cut out of cardboard that are seen as shadows on the large paper screen produced from a lamp behind the screen.

Three puppeteers play all the characters in the show. They wear folksy costumes of the time gone by. All of them brings puppets to life, and sing (Elle Wootton, Paul Waggott and Ralph McCubbin Howell). Paul Waggott also plays Gabriel, and narrates parts of the story directly to the audience. The three go back and forth playing live speaking characters, puppeteering both in front of the audience with the rod puppets and behind the screen for the shadow play, they also interact with each other as characters or as puppets and with the audience and sing! The three performers are energetic, personable and authentic.

Beautiful music and songs designed by Tane Upjohn-Beatson add atmosphere and charm, with lyrics by Ralph McCubbin Howell.

This is a coming of age story with wide appeal. It is also a show within a show, with layers of ideas expressed through the puppets, characters and music. There are gentle and sweet parts to the story, but the fable genre brings some darker ideas and realistic scenes. These ideas weave an intriguing story cleverly through the sixty-minute show with contrasts and changes in dynamics. The Trick of the Light theatre company is from New Zealand and creates shows that are “ playful, inventive, thought-provoking, and speaks to the here and now.” The Road That Wasn’t There certainly speaks to their aims. Much care and attention to detail goes into their shows and this one is no exception. It is entertaining, imaginative, thoughtful and enlightening!