Streets of lights, shadows and fairytales

REAL OR NOT: The Walter and Maggie puppets from The Road that Wasn't There?
REAL OR NOT: The Walter and Maggie puppets from The Road that Wasn't There?

It all started with a town that didn't exist.

Trick of the Light Theatre is returning to Wellington with its show The Road That Wasn't There, a twisted fairytale about streets and towns in New Zealand that exist only on maps. Or do they?

Playwright Ralph McCubbin Howell said the idea stemmed from a town, near where he grew up, that was never built.

"I grew up down the road from the site of a township that was planned a century ago, but never came to fruition," he said.

"I've always been fascinated by this idea of alternate histories and landscapes. Paper roads are roads that exist only on paper, yet maintain legal status in the real landscape - you often hear stories of tourists led astray when they follow them on GPS.

"The idea's so strange it lent itself to a tale of twisted magic."

In New Zealand there are about 56,000 kilometres of paper roads - streets and towns that exist only on surveyors' maps. In the play, a young woman strays from the beaten track and finds herself in a paper town. She discovers that actions taken in the fictional world can still have frighteningly real consequences.

McCubbin Howell said the family-friendly show was different from the one that had a short run at Bats Theatre in February.

"The longer season at Circa has meant we can realise more of the script's imagery in our sound and visual design," he said.

"We're not having to pack the set down each night and fit it in the back of a van, so we can let our imaginations run riot.

"This is our third run of the show and it's great to bring it back to Wellington for a longer season.

"The play's developed since last time, and we've reworked it for this new season. Each time we come back to it, we've enjoyed delving further into this curious world."

The show premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012 and toured New Zealand during the summer of 2013.

It will show at Circa during the school holidays, with two shows a day.

It uses shadows, puppets and paper to tell the story alongside the actors.

Director Hannah Smith and McCubbin Howell came up with the concept of the play while they were living in Britain.

They were restricted by budget, but still wanted to tell a New Zealand tale.

"This kind of narrative storytelling, and the use of puppets and shadow play, meant that we could evoke a rich world on a shoestring budget.

"In one sense the use of paper was practical, but in another it's very deliberate," McCubbin Howell said.

Trick of the Light Theatre's The Road That Wasn't There, Circa Theatre, corner of Cable and Taranaki streets, July 8 till 19, 11am and 7pm.Tickets from or 04 801 7992.

The Wellingtonian