The Man Who Planted Trees

The Man Who Planted Trees was originally a tale from French author Jean Giono in the 1950s, now pieced together onstage with cloth hangings, felt animals, and wafting lavender (yes, really). This piece of puppetry sees the narrator off to wartime France, where he meets an ageing man dutifully planting acorns in the hopes of resurrecting a barren landscape amid the backdrop of war. Puppet State Theatre Company offers a gently woven story, full of playful profundity and big laughs, likely to leave a smile stamped firmly on your family's face.

Steal a child on the Mile to go in with: they'll probably thank you by the end.

There is a keen environmental edge to the tale, but it is happy to lightly cover ground without forcing the message. Rick Conte and Richard Medrington deliver an easy-on-the-ears diction throughout, forgoing strong narrative hooks and rather seeking out keen listeners line by line, like the best of bedtime stories. The staging, too, is a mass of light touches, nudging the play across its scenery, in a delicate process that is nothing but a delight to watch.

This is good old-fashioned storytelling, well-documented by the fact that the company has been telling it for the last nine years, on tour across the UK and USA. The two performers utilise the aid of wryly humorous puppets, including the star of the show: the scrappy and joyous Dog. The ventriloquised pet has most of the show's strong jokes, of which there are many, sifting among malapropisms, puns, misunderstandings, and various plays on language that acknowledge the puppets' fakery to good effect. The performers are very composed, well-practised, and come across as safe hands, despite a script full of bombast and verbal absurdities, meaning that the child-focused show never comes across as condescending. People of any age should find something to appreciate here, and large themes are dealt with in a surprisingly simple and uplifting way.

The gentle manner of the show stops it from ever reaching greater heights, but it works well for what it is: a slow-moving tale that holds your attention and ought not to make the young ones any more hyperactive. It won’t make your Fringe, but ought to keep your kid still, and both of you happy. If you're childless and all grown up, without the confidence to go alone, I'd recommend you quit being self-conscious or just steal a child on the Mile to go in with: they'll probably thank you by the end.

Reviews by Henry St Leger

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The Blurb

'Laughs, heartbreak, war, regeneration, scented breezes, sparkling wit and the best dog puppet ever. Perfect for children and grown ups. Terrific' (Guardian). Back by popular demand, this multi award-winning adaptation of Jean Giono's classic environmental tale by Edinburgh based Puppet State Theatre Company has been touring internationally for the past six years, with appearances off-Broadway and at the Sydney Opera House. A unique blend of comedy, puppetry and inspiring storytelling. 'It is very, very rare to find something that appeals as effortlessly to adults and children as this magical show' ***** (Scotsman).