A charmingly clever lo-fi adventure about things that go buzz in the night, Tröll brings puppetry to Summerhall. Maggie Kelly reviews:

By god do the creators of Tröll understand the qualities of light.

The show is a masterclass in low-effort effects, magical shadow work and harsh blue-tinged screens at 4am in the morning. It’s also a nostalgic train ride that slams into the audience when the scratchy, mid-90s, Window powerup sound stutters into life. The faint light from the computer screen silhouettes Ralph McCubbin Howell’s head against the back of the stage.

Tröll Summerhall
Ralph McCubbin Howell

Trick of Light Theatre narrates the story of Otto and his family as they move to a new house and school in order to accommodate his grandmother Alma, who is slowly but surely dying of lung cancer. Otto is a precocious kid who adores Boudica, the Dark Ages and who can only really talk openly in a chat room where he pretends to be 13 (he’s actually only 12 and 3 months but doesn’t think anyone will notice). His life has trundled on pretty easily so far, so he’s a little concerned when, one night, he finds a Tröll hanging from the cables of the family computer, grinning at him with piercing green eyes.

Tröll Summerhall
Ralph McCubbin Howell

McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith weave live sound effects and projection together seamlessly and often to great effect. But there are a lot of things happening in Tröll. The story is one of comparative simplicity, but certain techniques, while beautiful, seem to obscure and complicate rather than elucidate the narrative. There are some breath-taking moments – two hard drives, some cables and lights are magically turned into a shadowscape house – but other projected gameshow sequences feel shoehorned in. By over-dramatising Tröll, there isn’t enough time to focus on core areas of the narrative.

Tröll Summerhall
Ralph McCubbin Howell

The Tröll is a metaphor for Otto’s depression, as his sister Erica (Smith) explains at the end.

It’s a bit of a swerveball – Otto’s battling a mental illness?

He’s getting bullied on the chatrooms and at school, and yes he ‘pulls a sickie’ to stay at home one day, but this surprise may be more impactful had there been clearer pointers earlier in the narrative.

Tröll Summerhall
Ralph McCubbin Howell

McCubbin Howell’s constant energy and enthusiasm is infectious, but it masks the underlying message of the play too effectively. Tröll is still charming, atmospheric and very clever. The puppetry and pervading sense of 1998-ness are conceived and implemented with skill. However, the whiff of style over narrated substance is hard to ignore.

★★★☆☆

Tröll played at Summerhall until 11 August 2019. For more information, please visit the festival website.