Arts Review: Leaf by Niggle

Puppet State (dir. Andy Cannon), Tron theatre, 29 – 30th April

One of J. R. R. Tolkien’s lesser-known works, Leaf by Niggle is a short tale about a little man, Niggle, trying to complete his painting of a tree, but always being disrupted by life’s endless interruptions.

Staged as a one-man play, performer Richard Medrington opens the show with a prologue giving some context to the work and explaining aspects of the minimal set, notably a stepladder laden with his own family memorabilia, such as grandparent’s World War I era antiques and bric-a-brac. This frames the piece well, Medrington’s family having fought at the Somme along with Tolkien, and allows the audience to buy into the periodicity of the piece at their own pace.

Leaf by Niggle itself is a very straight adaptation from page to stage, as the script is lifted almost exactly word for word from the book, including all the “he saids” and “she saids” in the dialogue. This presents great advantages and unique challenges to the production, as it easily benefits from Tolkien’s impeccable storytelling and scene setting, but can also make the piece more difficult than it might otherwise be.

The play grapples beautifully with Tolkien’s imagery and allegory, but where a reader is able to put down the book and think about what they’ve read, the play gives little time for the audience to assemble the shapes and colours in their heads. Themes of procrastination and death are dealt with in a very touching manner, though many may go by unnoticed.

Regardless of how mentally prepared one may be for this 80 minutes of occasionally tricky theatre it’s very easy to enjoy casually, as Richard Medrington’s performance of the various characters is always entertaining. Such is the strength of Tolkien’s writing that only the hardiest heart wouldn’t be warmed.

My only qualm is the production’s music, with fingerpicked guitars that seemed out of place for this quasi-period piece. It’s pleasant to hear, but jarring with the rest of the setup. Overall, nothing to ruin the delight of Puppet State Theatre’s Leaf By Niggle.

Leaf by Niggle is currently on tour and will be running at the Edinburgh Fringe.

[Jimmy Donaghy – @JimmyDonagee]

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