Thursday, 30 June 2016

Dramaturgy by Niggle: Richard Medrington @ Edfringe 2016

JRR Tolkien’s
Leaf by Niggle

At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 and part of the Made in Scotland Showcase 2016

Scottish Storytelling Centre, Venue 30
Aug 4 Preview 17:00 Aug 5 -28 (not 10, 15, 22, 23) 17:00 (75mins)
Aug 17 17:00 BSL interpreted performance

Performed by Richard Medrington
Soundtrack composed by Karine Polwart and Michael John McCarthy
Directed by Andy Cannon; Lighting by Gerron Stewart; Design Support by Ailie Cohen; Movement support by Janice Parker; Stage Management by Elspeth Murray

Puppet State Theatre Company returns to the
Credit Brian Hartley
Scottish Storytelling Centre for this year’s Festival Fringe, as part of Made in Scotland, with its acclaimed new production of JRR Tolkien’s little-known short story, Leaf by Niggle

This solo storytelling show, created and performed by Richard Medrington, draws on Richard’s personal family history as an introduction to Tolkien’s original story. 

Surrounded by ladders, bicycles and heirlooms, Richard Medrington (Jean from The Man Who Planted Trees) recounts Tolkien’s miniature masterpiece with a beautiful soundtrack composed by Karine Polwart and Michael John McCarthy.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I first read the story Leaf by Niggle back in 1992 and was so struck by it that I approached the Tolkien Trust and asked for permission to turn it into a puppet show. At that time the answer was a polite no. Over the next twenty years or so the story stayed with me, even seemed to pursue me at times, so in 2013 I approached the Trust again and this time they said Yes! In short the inspiration was a fascinating story with as yet unplumbed depths that I have enjoyed swimming in.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Some old collaborators from previous shows, a friend whose work I had long admired but with whom I had never worked, a musician whom I had worshipped from afar, a producer who was just great and who brought on board other fine people she had worked with in the past, and a beautiful woman who for some reason doesn’t totally object to being a company manager and my wife.

How did you become interested in making performance?
Started when I was five and was given the starring role in Peter and the Wolf. I remember the teacher saying “now Richard is going to play the part of Peter because he likes acting”. Not sure where she got that from but it’s true. Well, I like telling stories anyway. And framing them in interesting ways.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
No. A much bigger team was involved. I have done a lot of one-man shows in the past, with minimal assistance, and then ten years of collaboration on The Man Who Planted Trees with Rick Conte where I played the straight man to his comic creation Dog. This was partly going it alone again, and partly having the reassurance of a large and capable team. 

Then there was the surprising stage in development when we realised that this wasn’t going to be a puppet show after all! Somehow, we just couldn’t make it work with puppets. We tried to adapt the story – to cut down the word count, move scenes around - but in the end it seemed that the best thing to do was to keep every word, in the same order and trust Tolkien’s skill as a storyteller. (We did change one word that’s no longer in common usage and removed four words that reflected 1930’s gender inequalities.) 

The “adaptation” now mainly consists in the framing of the story. There is a prologue, during which I talk about the set elements and props, most of which are objects from the family attic. All these elements turn up later in the telling of the story and “earn their keep”.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
A stimulated imagination. A challenge to think. A feeling of safety. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Lovely music, interesting visual and aural elements, without overwhelming the eye or the mind. 

We considered and rejected ideas of a walk-through installation, although in a sense the set does turn into that at the end of the show, when people are keen to look at the props and talk about the story. (Probably haven’t answered your question).

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Story theatre? Is that a tradition?

Leaf by Niggle is considered by some to be Tolkien’s most autobiographical work, springing from his fear of not finishing The Lord of the Rings. In 1939, as war clouds were darkening, he woke up one morning with the story almost complete in his mind and wrote it down.

Niggle is a struggling artist who is trying to complete his magnum opus, a painting of a curious tree. He isn’t sure when he will need to set out on his journey, but he is worried that he won’t be able to finish the painting before it’s time to leave. 

Leaf by Niggle is often seen as an allegory of Tolkien's own creative process, and, to an extent, of his life. It is a tale of transformation, which examines the relationship between an artist, his creation and his community. 

Richard Medrington is the artistic director of Puppet State Theatre Company and for the past nine years the company has been touring the world with its much lauded production of Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees.  

This new adaptation of Leaf by Niggle is a reflection of Richard’s long held ambition to perform a staged version of the story. In 1993, Richard gave an acclaimed one-off storytelling performance of the piece at the Carberry Festival and has nurtured hopes of performing it to a wider audience ever since. 

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