Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – The Road That Wasn’t There
Lyra Theatre, Craigentinny 30 May 2018 [run ends 1st June]
***** (5 stars)
Gabriel works in the big city doing something involving stamping pieces of paper. He keeps missing phone calls/ getting messages from his home town saying he has to come home – his mum’s started acting even more oddly than usual. When he gets home the house isn’t looking good: when his mum does appear, she’s toting a shotgun and fires at him before realising it’s her son. It’s clearly time he came home to sort things out – maybe his mother would be better off in the Dusty Corners Nursing Home???
His mother is obsessed with maps and keeps stealing them from public libraries: when Gabriel asks why, his mother begins at last to tell him the one story she’s never told him – about his father, whom Gabriel never knew. Her Scottish parents emigrated to New Zealand, but found it wasn’t the promised paradise flowing with milk and honey: they were so hard up little Maggie had to go out to work as a seamstress to bring home some money. One day she set off to a job a long walk away. On the way she met Willie White-Rat by the old settler’s graveyard: he suggested a short cut using a road she didn’t know but which is clearly shown on the map he gave her.
When she looked at the map, a hitherto hidden road appeared in front of her. Her adventures on this road seem fantastical to Gabriel, who refuses to listen to the rest of the story – but then begins to wonder whether she is telling the truth, that she really did find Papertown, and meet Walter and his father and their amazing carnival. Maggie resumes her story, and tells her son about the wonderful times she had in Papertown: we see how close she is growing to Walter. Maggie’s father gets angry when he learns that Maggie hasn’t been hemming curtains: he confiscates her map and tells her the road she talks about is only a “paper road” – it was planned, but never built.
Maggie is desolated – she can’t find her special road without the map. She draws herself a new map, but finds it leads her to a badly misshapen world in which the evil Retlaw has control over the carnival and wants to marry her. She manages to escape, but without the map: for the moment she is safe, but she fears that somehow Retlaw will get her. She tells Gabriel that she sees the shadows growing around her house and she’s no longer as nimble as she used to be. Gabriel believes his mother completely now and, when she disappears after being given an old photograph of her holding an old map, is convinced that she really did find the ‘road that wasn’t there’, and get back to Papertown and Gabriel’s father, Walter?
There are so many fascinating little details in this piece I could spend pages writing about them: Walter’s father’s apposite Shakespeare quotes; the white bird that comes and helps; the whiteness of everything in Papertown; the evil fizzing magic with which Retlaw tortures Maggie and his father; the kiwi folk tales woven into the story; the lovely wee story of Captain Cook finding New Zealand; the delightful shadow play – the map in which hill of gold disappears to reveal road to Papertown, the neighbours leaving messages, the monsters; the puppetry with Young Maggie and her Papertown life; the simple set using cardboard boxes; and, and, and …
The young audience chattered excitedly before the show but was quiet as mice once it began and applauded wildly at the end. The children were really keen to stay on for the Q&A session at the end of the show. Among the questions eagerly asked: how do you come up with the ideas? What is it like playing lots of characters, and who’s your favourite? Why is it so scary? It was great to see the interaction between cast and audience, both enjoying themselves hugely.
Trick of the Light Theatre Company were invited to come from New Zealand to take part in the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, and I am so glad they did. I saw this show last Fringe, and absolutely loved it: it was just as brilliant second time round. Ralph McCubbin Howell has written a splendid show that invites us to follow our heart’s desires rather than conforming to the expectations of those around us, and to look closely at things rather than simply seeing what we expect to see. Actors, puppetry and shadow play come together to create a funny, scary, heartwarming and unforgettable piece – catch it if you can!
Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – The Road That Wasn’t There Lyra Theatre, Craigentinny Run Ends 1st June.