Richard Medrington (puppeteer, performance poet, writer and Artistic Director of Puppet State Theatre Company) may be the only person on stage throughout this piece, written by JRR Tolkien, but he ably creates the illusion of several characters inhabiting the space. While also carrying the narrative voice and on occasion addressing the audience directly as himself, he uses subtle changes in tone and dialects to make it very clear to us who is speaking. A skilful storyteller, there’s a warmth and ease in his performance and the plentiful wit in the script is well executed in the delivery.
The passage of time and location are also clearly depicted on the static set, by using simple but effective staging and lighting. The props are well selected and contribute in evoking the era and style in which Tolkien lived and worked. At the beginning of the show we are told of the history of many of the vintage items that make an appearance during the piece, some of which offer parallels with the story itself. This does add an extra level of charm, although the length of this section may leave the audience feeling a little restless for the start of the main story and could benefit from losing just a couple of minutes of the less relevant detail.
This is good old fashioned storytelling, the kind that’s reminiscent of childhood, but is definitely not childish. It’s escapism from the urban grit of modern life, yet rich and complex in the depth of themes that are universal and timeless. The specially composed soundtrack soothes, adding to the sense of wonder and innocence juxtaposed with a central theme of disappointment.
As per the book, it is no straightforward story, but rather stirs thought and raises many questions. This is of course a particularly enjoyable watch for those with an interest in the life and works of Tolkien, but also offers much for the philosophically, creatively or spiritually minded. It’s definitely not a prerequisite to have already read Leaf By Niggle to appreciate this production, but the piece is intriguing enough that afterwards… you might just want to.