Put a man with vision and a handful of acorns into a barren area and miracles can happen. The Man who Planted Trees is a piece of family theatre that defies simple definitions.
To call it a puppet show doesn’t do it justice: it’s a parable about man’s relationship to the planet, a story of revival after war, and a poem to the human spirit that’s played by both real life characters and puppets.
Based on Jean Giono’s 1950s classic, it tells of shepherd Elzéard Bouffier who spends more than 40 years growing trees in a deserted part of south-east France. He plants hundreds and hundreds of them, spawning a forest that outlives two wars and outlasts the threat of destruction under Nazi occupation in France.
The topic might sound a bit heavy for a younger audience (the show is recommended for ages 7+) but actually it will appeal to even littler ones, as there’s plenty of audience interaction and comedy to lighten the tone.
My 4-year-old did get fidgety at points, but he loved the puppets, giggled at the funny bits and was thrilled to receive his own bag of seeds at the end.
The audience quickly falls under the spell of this warm and charming production, that features elements to engage all your senses — the smell of lavender and mint wafting around the room are just some of the delights of this show.
Puppeteers Richard Medrington and Rick Conte created the show in 2006 with artist Ailie Cohen. Richard is the narrator/storyteller who interacts with the old man (our hero) and his hilarious dog, both puppets brilliantly brought to life by Rick. The dog in particular bowled us over, with his waggy sense of humour.
At the end, the dog gets his own ovation.
The Man who Planted Trees is a wonderful show with an important message, delivered without preachiness, about how one person can transform not only a landscape but the lives of future generations.
Watch it, share it, help it grow.
The Man who Planted Trees by Puppet State Theatre Company is playing at Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 (Waterloo/Embankment tube). 12pm & 3pm, £12/concs half-price (until Sep 1)