Category Archives: Videos

Leaf by Niggle Reflections -

While we have more to tell you (in a future post) about The Man Who Planted Trees, the bulk of 2016 was spent getting ready for and performing our new show (the one it took us more than 20 years to get around to) JRR Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle.

The tour of Scotland and Northern England began in April and ended in July, and was followed by a wonderful Fringe run at our favourite venue, the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Leaf by Niggle pen and ink sketch

Leaf by Niggle sketched by Elspeth Murray at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Hard to believe now that it all actually happened, but the reviews and our guest book are testament to a very successful tour, with audiences who were moved and spoken to by this amazing story.

Here are some of our favourite quotes on our facebook page.

Along the way we entered into discussion with the Tolkien Trust and Harper Collins who have now published, for the first time ever, a stand-alone edition of Leaf by Niggle, specifically designed to coincide with our tour. They used our artwork for the cover (thanks to Iain Craig) and even gave us a credit on the back. It’s a beautiful little book and only costs £3.99!

Tolkien Society announces the publication

Richard Medrington and Donald Smith

On the publication of Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle as a stand-alone edition

Karine Polwart reflects on working with Puppet State Theatre Company

Karine Polwart on Leaf by Niggle collaboration

So what do Tolkien aficionados make of our adaptation?

Adapting any well-known story for the stage is always a risky venture. While Leaf by Niggle is not a well known Tolkien title, any Tolkien expert worth his or her Lembas bread is at least going to be aware of it and may well have read it several times. Our decision to stick closely to the text (omitting only half a dozen words) should have stood us on solid ground, but it was still unclear how they would react to the framing of the story, the use of props and the general delivery of the piece.

We had two crucial tests: the first at Howden Park Centre in Livingston where we’d heard 18 members of the Polish Tolkien Society were going to be in attendance while on a #TolkienJourney round the British Isles and the second was to come after the main tour and the Fringe, when we were to go down to St Antony’s College Oxford for the international gathering of the Tolkien Society for their annual Oxonmoot. This time not 18 but 270 of the most dedicated Tolkien fans from all over the world would be in attendance.

So how did they go, these tests?

Well, we were delighted and honoured to meet “18 Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and Men of the Polish Tolkien Society” and you can read a review here of the Howden Park show written by Magdalena Słaba, the chief chronicler of the Polish Tolkienites.

“If the theatre is a form of communion of the performer and the onlooker, Leaf by Niggle is a bit more than that. It works and conveys true magic.” Magdalena Słaba

And how about Oxonmoot?

First of all, we couldn’t have done it without the phenomenal coordination of a tremendous production team headed up by the Tolkien Society’s wonderful Mike Percival. Mike met the challenge of coordinating the transformation of an Oxford college dining hall – with no blackout – into a beautifully-lit, raked theatre seating 300 in a mere matter of hours. Take a deep breath and you can see about twelve hours condensed down into 25 seconds below but please don’t blink …

The set-up always takes longer than the strike 😉

And how was it received?

They LOVED it! There was a full standing ovation and afterwards the audience queued for an hour and a half to talk to Richard and get him to sign copies of the new book. Mike Percival had this to say:

The great news is that the feedback on the performance from the attendees at Oxonmoot has been excellent – many many people have voted it the best Oxonmoot ever (!!) and many many people have cited Niggle as their favourite bit of this year’s Oxonmoot. It certainly made a great impression.

Thank you so much to Shaun Gunner, tenth and current Chairman of the Tolkien Society, who invited us and to everyone who made us very welcome.

For a fuller report – with beautiful illustrations – of the whole tour, you can have a look at this lavishly illustrated document full of quotes and facts and figures.

Leaf by Niggle is taking a rest for a few months while we are busy planting trees in Manchester for two weeks over Christmas, then we return to North America for a three month tour in the spring. Niggle will be back in Edinburgh during next year’s Fringe (at the Storytelling Centre again) and in the autumn of 2017 it will be touring the UK. If you are interested in booking a performance of Leaf by Niggle, contact Alice McGrath at Red Bridge Arts.

L’homme Qui Plantait Des Arbres à Montréal -


This six-week tour of North American began in Montreal and what a good start to the tour that was. Pourquoi? Well, il y’a 5 bonnes raisons (that’s 5 good reasons):

1) Louise Lapointe.

Louise is Director of Casteliers, Montreal’s puppetry-promoting arts body, and was there to meet us at the airport. We first met her in September 2011 in France at the Charleville International Puppetry Festival. We’d taken on the challenge of performing The Man Who Planted Trees in French for that festival and felt that it was a big vote of confidence when Louise asked us to do a Version Française for two of the shows we were already booked for at Theatre Outremont. That was a few months ago so we were nervous about dusting down the parlez vous but the reception from Montréal audiences was heart-warming. Louise made us feel very much at home and we enjoyed meeting her husband Daniel Butcher and can (controversially) confirm that her sister Claude’s bagels are at least a match for those we’ve devoured in New York. Not only that but she introduced Elspeth to her delightful coiffeur, Stephan W who, as a native of Charleville, not only does very chic hair styling but also gives good puppetry chat!


2) Ronnie Burkett

Renowned for his incredibly skillful and high-energy marionette performances, Ronnie Burkett is a huge name in international puppetry so we were thrilled to get to see his latest show Penny Plain at la Place des Arts. It was compelling and impressive, funny and tragic. There is a short video here and a selection of images of the beautiful puppets at Ronnie’s producer’s website here.


3) Agnès Durbet

Agnès is the granddaughter of the French author Jean Giono whose wonderful fable The Man Who Planted Trees is the inspiration for our puppetry and storytelling adaptation. We first met her in New York’s New Victory Theatre in 2009 and it was a great pleasure to see her again – and her wonderfully sparky teenagers Pauline and Timmy. Agnès helped coordinate the screening at Theatre Outremont of the documentary about her grandfather, Le Mystere de Jean Giono – through which we learnt that while Giono spent most of his life in Provence, it was Scotland’s mountains and lochs that really captured his heart. Thank you, Agnès, for your hospitality. Who knows where in the world we might cross paths again …


Louise Lapointe, Frédéric Back, Rick Conte, Agnès Durbet, Richard Medrington
Louise Lapointe, Frédéric Back, Rick Conte, Agnès Durbet, Richard Medrington 


4) Frédéric Back

Oscar-winning Canadian animator Frédéric Back came to see our second French show in Montreal – a great honour for us. We were nervous about what he would make of our adaptation. His animation of The Man Who Planted Trees is a 30-minute long gem of painstakingly animated artwork that lovingly represents the characters of Jean Giono’s original story. Our show is made of hessian and cardboard and is padded out to more than an hour with unscripted banter with an irreverent dog puppet. Fortunately, because he is an advocate for animal rights, he was actually very pleased that we let the dog’s character shine.

As well as attending the film screening one night, our show the next, Frédéric Back still had it in him to come out the next day plant a tree to mark the start of Montreal’s Earth Day.

Frédéric Back meets Dog (apologies for strange aspect ratio)

5) Earth Day

Originally we were going to be performing on 21st April, Earth Day, but the scale of the event this year meant that pretty much all of our audience would be out on the streets. There’s a greater sense of urgency than ever before about demonstrating to politicians that business as usual is not in the best interests of those of us who depend on the planet for our livelihoods – and at the end of the day, that’s all of us. Also in Montréal there’s a strong feeling that a large mining project in the North of Quebec, Le Plan Nord, has got all its priorities wrong. This Montreal Gazette piece reports that there were 250,000 of us out on the streets.

This video shows Frédéric Back planting an acorn as the bells chimed to mark the start of the march.

Even if you don’t understand the French voiceover, the sight of this generous man planting a single acorn and the hundreds of thousands of people making the shape of the tree/hand are very powerful. It was a privilege to be there.

“It’s Been Five Years, Dog!” -

Our recent performance of The Man Who Planted Trees (the 100th of this North American tour) at the Millennium Place Theatre in Whistler marked the 5th anniversary of touring with this show. There is snow on the mountains of British Columbia and it’s a long way in terms of ocean, altitude and years of accumulated experience since we first performed The Man Who Planted Trees at the Columcille Centre in Morningside in May 2006.

At that time, we had six shows scheduled at various schools, summer festivals and outdoor events followed by a Fringe run to round things off. Little did we know that that was just the beginning. Approaching 1,500 performances later, it’s still a rewarding and enjoyable experience to tell Jean Giono’s story to each new audience. Dog’s repertoire of jokes and insights has expanded, the set has undergone a rolling restoration, and the original costumes still fit (at a squeeze!).

To mark the 5th birthday we have made a video montage of photos from many wonderful, varied tour locations. We weren’t able to include each venue but it’s a tribute to everyone whose support has kept the show on the road.

And while we’ve been thinking for a while that ‘the next show’ will be about one of Scotland’s most influential sons, we’ve just recently given our ideas a working title –  America in the Morning: John Muir – One Wild and Precious Life.

John Muir was a man of extraordinary talents, including one for getting himself into (and usually out of) apparently impossible situations. He would become a world-famous naturalist, explorer, inventor of bizarre machines, a prolific writer and pioneer of the conservation movement, but in 1849 he was an eleven year old schoolboy with an insatiable thirst for adventure, living in a small town in Scotland, when one evening his father announced “We’re gan to America the morn!”

Development time will fit in around existing Man Who Planted Trees dates which include a 2-week 2011 Edinburgh Fringe run, our first performances of the show in French at the puppetry festival in Charleville, a Fall USA tour with a return to the Lincoln Center Institute, and a Spring 2012 North America tour. We plan to premiere the new show at the Fringe in 2012. We’re interested in new and existing partnerships for this project and continue to work with our agents Holden & Arts for North American touring.

Meanwhile, many thanks again to everyone who has played a part in this semi-scripted, semi-improvised adventure. If you’d like to stay tuned, see the links below where you can ‘like’ us on facebook, subscribe to our blog or have a look at our website (which we promise will look substantially more groovy come festival time!).

Oh and what about those pictures from Seattle that we promised? Here’s a selection with wistful music evoking the (admittedly only occasionally) wet weather of Washington State by the wonderful, Edinburgh-based singer songwriter Emily Scott.

And where are our next public shows? In the USA, it’s St Paul, Minnesota on 4th & 5th June. And in the UK, it’s in Bristol at the World Stage Festival 8-10th July.

Finally, if you’d like to hear about our next blog post – including  a wonderful pre-show lecture from the Chicago Humanities Festival – sign up through the ‘Email Subscription’ button over there —>

Thanks for swinging by!

Whizzing Across The Map -

I hope you enjoy clicking above on the video whistle-stop view of where the tour took us in March. (It’s made using a snazzy slideshow feature that comes with iPhoto ’11 in case you were wondering.)

Thanks in New Bedford go to the Zeiterion Theatre and the Whaling Museum as well as Ailie Cohen’s family and friends who took good care of us there. Don Cuddy wrote a lovely piece about our show for the regional press. (Oh and Elspeth’s grubby nose is from overly keen sniffing of ambergris.)

Congratulations to Leslee Silverman at Manitoba Theatre for Young People on getting a big national award while we were there. And to MTYP’s Derek Aasland for valiantly fielding headaches relating to shipping our set from Canada to New York while we were on our break in Georgia.

The Atlanta spell was a break between performing engagements when we enjoyed the hospitality and company of Rick’s family and friends. (Elspeth made the spring-themed
painted poem plate at All Fired Up.)

In Kingston we performed courtesy of Bardavon Theater (where Mark Twain used to perform) at Ulster Performing Arts Center (where Garrison Keillor was on stage the day after us). The puppet in the slideshow who looks like Elzeard Bouffier’s girlfriend was made by Grian MacGregor of Ivy Vine Players. Many thanks to Kay Churchill for welcoming us warmly and sending us away with special stuff from Tuthilltown Distillery, New York’s first legal whiskey distillery since prohibition.

(And we didn’t visit the Yankees Stadium, by the way. But it was a landmark on our way upstate.)

Talking of baseball, however, we’re in Seattle right now and have just tonight seen the dress rehearsal at Seattle Children’s Theatre of the fabulous civil rights baseball drama Jackie And Me. Wonderful wonderful stuff!

There will be pictures and music to come from our lovely long run in Seattle. But for now, two reviews: one from Seattle’s Child (“No Mom, not funny,” my 8-year-old corrects me. “Hysterical!”) and one from The Seattle Times. My favourite pull-out quote: “And it smells good, too.”

(And the North American tour tally up until Kingston: 33 performances to over 6,000 people. That’s not including the Seattle shows. With them included – 69 shows for well over 15,000 people!)

Another Catch-Up. About Bloggy Time Too! -

Two main things are different about this tour than I (Elspeth) thought they’d be when we set out in February: 1) enjoyment outweighs the sense of slog (it’s pretty good fun, I must confess!) and 2) it’s harder to keep up this blog than I expected. I did expect that in order to blog, I would need to set time aside to write and make consequent choices not to go and do/see/have the alternative thing/spectacle/nap in various locations. But I didn’t reckon on how unfeasible that would be in practice. In the future, I aim to tilt the balance of probabilities in the favour of more frequent postings by generally being that bit more organized. And by remembering that blog writing is a fun kind of a slog too.

Today, as it’s a rainy day in Pittsburgh at the end of a festival run, without any shows or travel and when we have insufficient inclination to become temporary tourists, it seems like a good time to whizz back in time to capture and share some of the last few weeks’ goodies – and soggies.

Nashville – Before the Deluge

Talk about rain! We were in Nashville for just over a week in late April and experienced some of the heaviest rain we’ve ever seen. Rain in which there was no chance of stepping out without getting drenched, whatever kind of clothes you had on (I had on a fabulous cow-patterned poncho from one of the ‘western wear’ shops). The rain came and it went. And then we went. And a few days later it rained again in Nashville and didn’t stop for two whole days. Tennessee has not been so badly flooded since anyone can remember. Thirteen inches in two days – that’s double the previous rainfall record.

Some of places we went to are now barely recognizable. The Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville was surrounded by water but the legendary country performance venue The Grand Ole Opry is submerged and will be out of action indefinitely. People we were working with at TPAC, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, including Karen Palin, Associate Technical Director, were involved in re-staging the Opry at their War Memorial Auditorium, its home from ’39-’43. If you are on facebook, you can see a very touching album of behind-the-scenes photographs of this historic moment. And if you’re not on facebook, you can read about it here on the Grand Ole Opry’s website.

Back row L-R: Letty, Larry, Richard, Front: Karen and Sherri. Sporting the medals we awarded them for being variously brilliant and fabulous behind the scenes.

Rick was blessed with a veritable stream of visitors as Nashville is the closest we get on this particular tour to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Both big sisters came, Richelle with Greg, and Robin – with her husband Lou and their four great kids, Robbie, Katy, Nicky and Michael. David Scott from Rick’s early years as a drummer in Edinburgh and Jimmy Burns from his Georgia high school days enjoyed nights out in downtown Nashville as did Felicia and Wren, who were also our daytime puddle-hopping, flip-flopping partners that soggy Saturday.

And as a treat for touring puppeteers, Nashville’s Public Library is something else. They employ several full-time puppeteers and have a long history of presenting book-inspired puppet shows. We not only had the pleasure of seeing the latest production of Mark Twain’s “Jumping Frog of Calveras Counry” but we were honoured with a tour of their incredible collection of puppets.

Kitted out at Katy K's (She's kitted out Dolly Parton in the past, dontcha know)

I prepared to celebrate my 40th birthday in Nashville with a trip to Katy K’s western wear to buy a dress – and a crazy wig. Wearing the dress but not the wig, I was accompanied to the Country Music Hall of Fame by my favourite sight-seeing accomplices, my dear husband Richard Medrington and the ever-witty Rick Conte.  There’s a set of photos from the Country Music Hall of Fame here.

Finally, the Nashville week was distinguished and made especially memorable with the recording of an interview with Dog himself. Dog the celebrated thespian who reflects here upon his major influences and his illustrious career to date.


Later, dear readers, you will be hearing about our puppetry, theatrical perambulations through the rustyish belt of Philadelphia, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Thanks for stopping by!



See more photos on flickr »