Written by Jean Giono
Created and Adapted by Richard Medrington and Rick Conte
Trees provide more than fresh air and gorgeous views. Their shade cools the land, their leaves fertilise the soil, and their mighty trunks the homes of various creatures; their value is indisputable, yet their presence is overlooked.
There is no question, Puppet State’s The Man Who Planted Trees is the finest example of cross-generational storytelling at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. They have a passion for their craft which has endured for over fifteen years, and over 1,700 performances. After all this time, the acorn planted by the company has become one of Fringe’s most beloved pieces of theatre.
Adapted from the short story by Jean Giono, The Man Who Planted Trees follows Elzéard Bouffier, a French shepherd who single-handedly begins re-planting 10,000 trees. He does so without the want of glory or praise – it is only Jean (and Bouffier’s small four-legged companion) who appreciate, and understand, the tremendous feat undertaken.
But about Bouffier’s companion – let’s cut to the chase, the real hero of the tale, who happens to be infatuated with chasing their own tail, Dog. Rick Conte handles much of the puppetry throughout Puppet State’s production, from paper dolls to animated creations which aid in furthering the narrative. His principal part, however, is that of Dog, our fourth-wall-breaking, stick-chasing and faithful companion across this whimsical journey. More than just the audience’s favourite, Conte’s Dog enables a break from the direct nature of the storytelling, allowing a breather of sorts and transition between scenes.
It’s a remarkable piece of writing and stagecraft to hold the appeal of generations without the reliance on gimmicks or contemporary references. Richard Medrington’s storytelling possesses a gentile manner, transcending boundaries older children may have. Incorporating an innocence, but stringently high quality, the production builds on sensory tools, principally smell and sight, with the occasional cooling touch provided by a gentle rainfall to keep audiences engaged.
Season after season, while the leaves wither and grow anew, The Man Who Planted Trees continues to raise smiles and moods across theatres – this multi-sensory experience is the pinnacle of storytelling. The significance of the show increases with age, and where its environmental message ripples through the years, perhaps now, more so, its message of kindness is the takeaway from Giono’s tale; a story of a man, welcomed by a stranger’s time and again, as much a nuanced tale of respect as it is one of reclaiming our planet.
Beloved piece of theatre
The Man Who Planted Trees runs at the Scottish Storytelling Centre until August 29th.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.