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Local essentials with Ralph McCubbin Howell

By India 27 Jun 2019

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Ralph McCubbin Howell co-founded theatre company Trick of the Light with his partner, Hannah Smith. Their creepily comic play Tröll, written and performed by Ralph, is coming to Circa Theatre from 13 to 20 July.

You had to be there

Tröll is set in the ’90s, and that’s the aesthetic: dial-up internet and pixels. There’s a joke early on where we’re talking about how fast the internet is on this kid’s new computer, and then we play the dial-up modem sound in full. It gets a laugh from the adults in the audience, but for the children it’s just, “Why are you playing this strange sound for so long?”

Humble beginnings

We first staged Tröll in 2017, for the Fringe Festival, on the staircase of our flat in Aro Valley. The “stage” was the space, about a metre square, between the bottom of the stairs and the front door. We could fit 10 people on the staircase if they all sat down in the right place and at the same time. If anyone jumped the gun and sat down first, it wouldn’t work. We didn’t have any space for people’s bags, so we had someone guard them on the front step. On the day when we didn’t have someone there, we had to convince everyone in the audience to put their bags in the boot of our car and assure them we weren’t going to drive off with them.

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BATS theatre on Kent Terrace

Hitting the big time (but keeping it small)

We did a little tour of Tröll in 2018: Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch. This year, we took it to Perth for Fringe World and then did the Capital E National Arts Festival back in Wellington. There are some coded references that only local audiences pick up on. If you know Wellington, you can map where the characters are in the city.

Staging it in Circa Two [Circa Theatre’s smaller performance space] is going to be cool because it’s got the intimacy that the show requires. It’s a storytelling piece, so it’s great when I can play off the audience and when everyone’s huddled close together. It’s a story about things that go bump in the night, and you get that sense of something you’d tell around the campfire.

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Beers at the Garage Project Taproom on Aro Street

Feeding the trölls

Hannah and I are both vegetarian, so we go to Aunty Mena’s a lot. We have a favourite table there. I always try not to order the same thing, but the curry noodles are so good that I risk having food regret if I don’t. We lived in Aro Valley for a long time, so we’ve had a lot of coffee at Aro Café and beer at Garage Project. And El Matador does the best vegetarian brunch, in my opinion. It’s vast, so you eat it and then it stays with you for the rest of the day.

Walk on the wild side

I love going for walks in the bush. There’s a great one up Holloway Road, this strange street in Aro Valley with a lot of old houses. The road leads to Waimapihi Reserve, which is a really atmospheric place with beautiful secret grottos. You can do a loop that takes you back to Aro Valley, or you can go up to the wind turbine, which gives you some amazing views, although it’s a death trap in winter, because it gets so muddy.

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Ralph's a fan of Polhill Reserve near Aro Valley
Photo credit: Tim Park

Home comforts

We’re on tour a lot, so whenever we’re home, we revel in being able to go to the Victoria Street Farmers’ Market. We’ll traipse home with huge bags packed full of veggies. Another thing we don’t get to do a lot when we’re on tour is ride our bikes. We love it, especially when we’re in Aro Valley, because it’s the flat part of Wellington, so you can just zip along to BATS Theatre and get there in five minutes.

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