Edinburgh Fringe 2019
“It’s 1998. Otto is 12 but online he’s 13 and he’s pretty sure he gets away with it. He lives with his mum, dad, and sister, a chain-smoking Icelandic granny, and an ancient malevolent troll that’s living in the wall… a lo-fi wi-fi fable in the vein of Stranger Things, combining storytelling, projection, and puppetry.”
The joys of late night Internet wanderings! Otto tells us enthusiastically what he gets up to when everyone else is asleep. He is a compelling young character in the days of dial-up Internet. The familiar (but now old-fashioned) sound of computers and logging in to phone lines play in the background. A large screen on the back wall transforms into a shadow play screen, switching quickly to animations, silhouettes and huge lime green pixelated squares. In front is a table with small-scale technology on a white stage area.
Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith from Shadow of the Light Theatre present their new show after successful runs at prior Edinburgh Fringes with The Bookbinder and The Road That Wasn’t There. They are known for combining storytelling, projection and puppetry but this show goes beyond these skills. Innovative use of technology, animation, every day materials and teeny tiny objects projected with smart phones result in a very creative show for all ages to enjoy.
Howell plays Otto as an exaggerated 12 year old who draws everyone into the story and then tones down the energy level a bit, when he narrates and relates to the audience. Howell’s performance is very effective and holds the audience’s attention because of the interesting way he delivers his dialogue, uses his physicality, changes his facial expressions and his relatable personality. He’s trying to push the limits and get away with things – and he does – for a while. Wearing a cap, T-shirt, shorts and socks, he looks like any tween boy bouncing around his room.
Off to the side of the stage Smith stands at a tall narrow table with more technology and she runs the sound, lights and imagery, including a laptop that plays animations, sound effects and music, recorded dialogue of additional characters that Otto talks to live, plus she becomes a dramatic silhouette character that Otto interacts with. Howell also manipulates shadows, holds devices to project exquisite small scenes and object characters onto the screen, often while narrating. Technically, this is a complex show and Howell and Smith who both created the show move through the visual storytelling sequences adeptly with perfect timing and coordination.
Two of the puppetry highlights are how a simple white extension cable becomes an extremely well articulated creature beautifully manipulated by Smith, and when Howell holds a single sheet of newspaper and brings characters to life and have a conversation – both very effectively!
There is a lot of variety in visual and aural storytelling, performance and puppetry style so the story is always moving at a good pace with changing visuals. Otto’s placement on stage varies, as he sits at the table, under the table, on the floor and moves around the entire stage area. Lighting design is sometimes from unexpected sources, small stage lights, a torch, light from a phone screen, and it’s all very effective and adds mood and surprises, especially when Otto is looking for the Troll.
This is an entertaining, imaginative, heartfelt, relatable and meaningful show that also serves as a cautionary tale about the Internet for people of all ages who go online to watch and talk about.
The depth of the story, excellent performances and physical storytelling, superb innovative shadow and object puppetry, creative and relatable script, dynamic physical storytelling, beautiful design of the animations with limited colour palette in the style of the show, humour and drama, imagination, care and attention to every detail, all add up to make this an Outstanding Show – see it if you can!