The creators of the widely-acclaimed Bookbinder come back to Edinburgh Festival Fringe with The Road That Wasn’t There. A paper pusher is recalled from lofty London to small town England when he starts to hear concerning reports of his ageing mother. Finding no knob on her door, he crawls through her window to find her immersed in a fantasy world, lured to steal maps by childhood memories of a more exciting place.
Adults and children alike will be enthralled by the mysterious story about exploring the lines on a map, even those that don’t always correspond with reality.
The son, fed up with his mother robbing libraries and gardening in her pants, only reluctantly learns the tale of her childhood. Back when she was “a lass of particular gumption” and people still remembered the gold in the hills, she set out to start work as a seamstress and instead found an uncanny, vibrant town where anything seemed possible.
A simple set suffices for this haunting tale: maps hung on clotheslines, cardboard boxes and just a few odd props. Shadow puppets enact memories and imaginations on the faded cartography, inciting an eerie wonder only magnified by a whimsical score.
The small troupe from New Zealand will intrigue you with their accents and win you over with their storytelling. Each performer demonstrates a phenomenal range, bringing two town’s worth of characters to life with puppets, shadows and voices.
As the story progresses, the plot proves a windy one but it is lit with dynamic action and an instantly loveable heroine. Like any truly captivating fantasy, it is worth a little complication and ambiguity.
The show strikes the perfect balance between innovation and classical storytelling. With all of the stuff of legends – a monster, a love, wild ambition, youthful curiosity, wanderlust and escapism — it feels like the sort of story that has always existed, waiting to be told. The unique premise, on the other hand, poignantly reflects on maternal relationships, post-gold-rush towns and most of all the abandoned- and sometimes resumed- dreams of childhood.
The score, the talent, but above all the story make this an act worth seeing. Enchanting and spectral, child-like and evocative, this is a journey you won’t want to miss.
The Road That Wasn’t There
Assembly Roxy (Venue139)
Until 27 August
Buy tickets here