If someone happened to wander into the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh knowing nothing about Puppet State Theatre Company’s The Man Who Planted Trees, they’d certainly be surprised to know that the same production they'd encountered has been performed for over 15 years in countries all around the world. Having proven itself beyond timeless and still very much alive, the company's stage adaptation of Jean Giono’s allegorical short story retells the tale of a shepherd who plants trees, acorn by acorn, until he quietly transforms a barren wasteland into a paradise of new life.
An ordinary tale told with extraordinary beauty
This endlessly comforting production combines the oral tradition of storytelling with the theatrical form of puppetry, freeing the imagination through the power of a good story, well told. The tellers, two men with an expertise in play, serve the tale as our narrators and puppeteers. They are joined by Dog, an amusingly humorous and inquisitive puppet that provides comedic levity, as well as an accessible way for the show’s younger audience members to understand the story’s larger ideas about continued hope in the face of destruction, political corruption, and personal failure.
Despite the text’s ability to easily evoke imagery, not all is left up to the imagination as this fully sensorial experience consistently delights with folksy music, miniature models, calming soundscapes, and breezy aromas of nature. Even more remarkable is the transformation that magically occurs when the set, at first various degrees of appearing wooden, subtly turns into the greenery of fresh life, an “indisputable symbol of resurrection” as part of an ending that holds the audience in complete awe.
The story teaches patience — an all too rare characteristic of life today — not only in the gradual spreading of the shepherd's forest, but also through the inviting performances of our two storytellers who seem to be in no hurry to do anything other than tell their story through brilliant simplicity, a dash of wit, and a relaxed sincererty of tone. The precise puppeteering of the shepherd exemplifies great generosity, purely for the sake of creating a better world. Perhaps it's not how one can ease their own life, but instead how a single gesture can grow beyond a lifetime.
The Man Who Planted Trees is an ordinary tale told with extraordinary beauty; a reminder that in spite of everything, life is not completely hopeless. If you close your eyes, you might still hear the creak of a wooden chair or the chirping of nearby birds. You might feel the wind blow across your face, or even catch a whiff of lavender or mint. But if you listen, truly listen, you may find yourself altogether transported to the shepherd’s forest, forever blessed by the shade of its leaves.