The Man Who Planted Trees
Puppet State Theatre Company
Scottish Storytelling Centre
It's hardly a surprise to say that Puppet State Theatre's The Man Who Planted Trees is everything it's cracked up to be. It was 13 years ago it first graced the stages of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and not only hasn't lost any of its vigour, but it seems as fresh as ever was.
Based on Jean Giono's short story, the play follows the tale of Jean who, while hiking through a particularly arid and desolate part of France, happens upon a friendly sheep farmer, Elzéard Bouffier. Widowed and alone, save for his trusty dog and sheep, Bouffier spends his free time sorting through acorns and planting those which are fit to grow. Periodically, Jean returns to the valley and sees how Bouffier's efforts are transforming the landscape and how the world events around him are echoed throughout this little pocket of paradise.
The beautiful conceit of the play and what makes it timeless and universal is that, despite the early 20th century setting, the performance by Richard Medrington and Rick Conte never fails to be charming and engaging. Medrington's part, ostensibly as Jean but more as a narrator, plays off Conte's performance of the delightful puppet Dog. And it's Dog who acts as a sounding board for the children in the audience; make no mistake, this is a show that is utterly perfect for all ages, with enough family humour to have the kids rolling about the aisles, as well as witty but tasteful gags for the grown-ups to enjoy.
More than that, this parable is a joyful and earthy reflection on the beauty of the pastoral, and on both mankind and nature's ability to regrow and heal no matter what. An uncompromising classic, and a joy to behold, for the child in all of us.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan