Review: The Road That Wasn’t There & The Bookbinder

New Zealand-based theatre company Trick of the Light Theatre brings two magical shows of storytelling and fairytales to the Fringe: The Road That Wasn’t There and The Bookbinder. ★★★★ & ★★★★★

Feb 15, 2016, updated Feb 15, 2016

In The Road That Wasn’t There, a troublesome old woman tells her son a secret: when she was a girl, she followed a map and travelled a road that didn’t really exist – it was made only of paper – and at the end of that road she fell in love.

But things changed when she drew a picture of herself into the map; they turned sinister and she feared for her life. Now, nearing the end of her days, she’s desperate to find the road that wasn’t there.

It’s a twisted play with winding roads; a little scary and slightly difficult to follow. But it won an Auckland Arts Festival award and the Chapman Tripp award for Outstanding New New Zealand Play, Most Promising Director, and Production of the Year, most likely due to its artistry, its mix of puppetry and shadow play, and the way the music complements the ups and downs of the narration.

In The Bookbinder, a boy apprentice to the bookbinding craft messes up, big-time, and falls into the book he’s ruined.

He becomes a tiny figurine, made from the paper of old books, and he gets lost in a city, also made from old books. What I wouldn’t give to be lost in a place like that!

But it, like the road that wasn’t there, is scary (at first his path is lit only by a desk lamp), and he’s desperate to find his way back home. He needs to bind the book whole again, using his self. More specifically, “A thread of hair from your head, a knife from human shin, a needle from your tooth to bind the softest skin”.

The show is darkly narrated by Ralph McCubbin Howell (also in The Road That Wasn’t There) and craftily directed by Hannah Smith; both are founders of the theatre company. It’s won Best Theatre, Best in the Fringe and the Tiki Tour Ready Award at the NZ Fringe Awards, plus an International Excellence Award at the Sydney Fringe. I’m tipping it to win more.

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It’s a stunning work of art, operating mostly with paper and light, but the craft feels more delicate and surprising than that of The Road and ultimately I’d say it’s the best show I’ve seen in my 17 years of going to Fringe.

Both stories are creatively impressive and outstandingly told, working with moods of enchantment and the downright spooky. They’re imaginative works of beauty, and in a hit-or-miss Fringe, they’re both hands-down stand-up hits.

If you can’t see one, see the other, but considering The Road That Wasn’t There plays nightly from 6-7pm, with The Bookbinder following at 7.30pm, you mightn’t have to choose between the two.

The Road That Wasn’t There: **** four stars

The Bookbinder: ***** five stars

Trick of Light Theatre is presenting The Road That Wasn’t There and The Bookbinder at the Bakehouse Theatre until February 20.


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