Both beautifully subversive and heart-wamingly earnest, this family puppet show has been a staple of the Edinburgh Fringe and the Southbank Centre for the last several years – and long may it run.
The premise is that it’s a stage adaptation of Jean Giono’s 1953 classic story ‘L'homme qui Plantait des Arbres’, which follows the efforts of a stoic French farmer to reseed the desolate south of the country. Beloved in France, Giono’s tale is a hopeful allegory for the renewal of post-war Europe that’s taken on a more literal ecological resonance in later years.
And it’s carried off delightfully, with Richard Medrington as the wistful narrator, awed at puppet farmer Elzéard’s selfless dedication to the soil. It’s a lovely story, tinged by the sorrows of the twentieth century, but irrefutably optimistic.
It could still come across as rather twee, but that’s where the subversion comes in. Comedy animal sidekicks aren’t always a good idea, but Rick Conte’s Dog is a great creation, a dopey American beastie who blunders through the show in a vaguely postmodern manner, dimly aware that he may be a puppet. On paper a sweetly serious story mixed with knowingly ironic puppet goofing is a terrible combination. But Medrington and Conte pull it off: neither of them are really worthy to tell the tale of the saintly Elzéard, but their well-meaning attempts to do so mirror the story’s hopeful tone.
By Andrzej Lukowski