'The Man Who Planted Trees' – Puppet State Theatre Company
Puppet State’s award winning show ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’, based on the novel by Jean Giono, is as simple, charming and playful as ever. Using a modest mix of live action, glove and tabletop puppetry, master storytellers Richard Medrington and Rick Conte transport us to a dusty, windswept part of France. Here we meet a humble but inspiring shepherd Elzéard Bouffier, who has a serious tree planting habit.
Puppet State’s production began life touring schools and has since graduated to venues as grand as the Sydney Opera House. In the Purcell Room at London’s Southbank, Medrington and Conte strive for intimacy with their audience and achieve it, despite the fairly large, smart venue. The set is small-scale and rustic, the glove puppet dog a bundle of fur and the gentle shepherd wrought from rough fabrics. The actors and the puppets alike have a gleam in their human and button eyes.
The rural scene is set with a few simple props – tree outlines in wood, lengths of material to form a mountainside or a forest canopy, some tiny doll house-like buildings. Cameos by some sheep on strings and a chicken glove puppet are short but sweet. The puppeteers don’t hide their art – the performance is always framed as them telling a story, illustrated with what they have to hand.
Intelligent children’s theatre, ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ tackles life, death and some of the ups and downs in-between. It’s a moral play with a strong message about the environment, kinship and selflessness, but it’s all delivered with a light touch. Word play and water keep things comic. It’s also a smelly play – the big fans used to waft essential oils into the audience are a nice touch.
Elzéard Bouffier gradually ages (and his soft woollen hair gradually greys) and, despite two world wars raging around him, he manages to nurture a huge forest into life. The knock-on effects know no bounds – the entire area is reinvigorated. Humans are a vital and positive part of the blossoming ecosystem, not removed from it. Elzéard seeks no recognition for his labours – happiness, we learn, isn’t to be found in the pursuit of fame and money but in a simple life, well-lived.
'The Man Who Planted Trees'
Puppet State Theatre Company