The Man Who Planted Trees - Puppet State Theatre
The Unicorn, London Bridge
Based on a book by Jean Giono
The current stream of children's entertainment often seems to consist of high-budget, computer-enhanced and rapidly moving spectaculars. The fact that a well-constructed, convincingly told moral tale is just as much, if not more able, to hold a child's attention appears to have been bypassed by many. This is not the case with The Man Who Planted Trees. A simple set and a simple structure enable a simple story to be told, with captivating results.
Richard Medrington plays Jean, the quintessentially self-effacing but enchanting childrens' narrator. Jean meets Elzeard Bouffier - the man who plants the trees - along with the true star of the show: Elzeard's dog. Operated by Rick Conte, the dog provides the show's laughter and joie de vivre, even when he has aged to 280 in dog years and possesses huge grey eyebrows. Endlessly entertaining, he reveals that he was once an unsuccessful auditionee for Cats.
Despite what at first appears to be a fairly rudimentary set of canvas tree shapes, the audience is provided with a fully multi-sensory experience. Scents of woodland and lavender are wafted around, as well as a mist of rain water. Birds flying overhead and a miniature working fountain are enchanting yet far from bewilderingly high-tech centrepieces.
What is fantastic about this production is that every aspect, down to the last detail, extols the humility quietly advocated by the selfless act of Elzeard Bouffier's ecological feat. There is no pretence and no bravado; the final bow even goes to the dog. This makes The Man Who Planted Trees completely successful in what it sets out to do: to show the virtues of working for the greater good, and to entertain an audience of very disparate ages and tastes.
Helena S. Rampley
Helena S. Rampley