Fringe Review: “Tröll” is worth crossing the bridge for
The definition of a ‘Troll’ has changed over the past few decades. Tell a Puritan that trolls are people who make deliberately offensive or provocative online posts with the aim of eliciting anger or sadness, you’d probably be burnt at the stake for witchcraft.
Whilst the definition has changed from a large ugly brute to a virtual menace, the traits are largely the same; a distaste for joy, a need to bring ill and a desire for misery. Tröll is a zippy, energetic and darkly comic Fringe Festival show that juggles both the large ugly monster and the virtual menace. Set in 1998, twelve-year-old Otto and his family move into a new town to accompany their ill Grandmother. Otto finds solace in the home computer and his virtual connections until malevolent forces begin to stem from the computer wires running through the walls.
The two-person play is performed by Ralph McCubbin Howell (as Otto) and Hannah Smith (as various characters and stagehand) from the award-winning Wellington theatre company Trick of the Light, who bring their lo-fi set designs and effects to life with the aid of visually stunning and creative lighting techniques. Tröll wastes no time with its brief 45-minute runtime, rolling punchline after punchline intercut with surprisingly effective atmospheric terror, akin to the nostalgic horror of a Goosebumps episode.
Acted out on a proscenium stage, Tröll features only a single desk table and a projector screen as its centerpieces. What might originally be considered a low-key stage design is quickly undercut; images are either displayed by an off-stage projector or by the on-stage characters shining lights to cast unexpected silhouettes. Both of these lighting styles are interacted with by the characters, as shapes and images are cast upon them in a clever creative twist. The extreme attention to detail brings Tröll’s otherwise minor stage to life in bigger and bolder ways than expected.
The dialogue (especially when Otto is speaking directly to the audience) is incredibly witty and fun (a perfect introduction to New Zealand comedy) as Otto details for us his top 5 lists of the coolest warriors, best things on the web and the worst ways to die, complete with accommodating projections.
Though where it succeeds in comedy it stumbles in drama. There are cherishable moments and otherwise admirable endeavours into heavier topics of death and depression, yet the emotional core of the play isn’t given enough time to fully evolve (note the 45-minute runtime, of course). Tröll does what it can and in an admirable spirit, still gives a few heartwarming lines. Luckily for Tröll, it’s humour keeps it from tumbling off the bridge like a poor Billy Goat Gruff.
Tröll’s emotional core is perhaps a bit frail in its brief runtime, however, it is carried by irresistible charm, stellar craftsmanship and channels the nostalgic atmosphere of an old Goosebumps novel. Tröll is suitable enjoyment for audiences not looking for anything too heavy, or for families with children who are in need of a parable, or a good scare.