Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A unique blend of puppetry, comedy and storytelling, retells Jean Giono’s classic tale of a French shepherd and his dog, living in barren land through two world wars, who sets about planting trees for no other reason than he likes them. His planting over time has transformational results and we are taught all about the importance of trees for the environment and the community.
This is a delightful, charming and hilarious story performed by Rick Conte and Richard Medrington. The comedic element comes from the puppet dog, called simply ‘dog’. A simple hand puppet who sits on the performer’s lap in a basket he alone is responsible for most of the many memorable comic moments in the piece. What is nice is that we don’t go straight into the story but we witness at first a 15 minute or so relaxed conversation between the storyteller and the dog, where the storyteller enlists his help in the telling of the tale and thus the dog is free to bring his unwitting comedic skill to the story, based mainly around the fact that he is dog, through his ‘improvisations’.
The story is told through the eyes of the storyteller who visits the barren land of the shepherd at various times in his life. Thus we are introduced to the land via the performer’s wafting the smells of lavender through the audience, lavender being the only thing that will grow on the plane. A rather stark picture is painted of local village life; a hostile environment, suicide and murders and squabbling over who will harvest the last remaining trees. By the end of the piece we see the transformation that has taken place because of the shepherd’s unselfish efforts and again we a treated to wafting smells, this time the smells of the forest and we see all the good it has done to a now thriving community and town.
The set is simple yet lovely. Made in fabric it transforms with the demands of the storytelling with great ease and minimum hassle so as not to upset the rhythm of the story.
It is the dog, however, that steals the show via the comedy double act of dog and storyteller, the latter acting as the ‘straight man’. Some of the jokes and one-liners are quite old but nevertheless the duo breath new life into them with their charming comedic skill.
Despite paying for highly billed stand-up this fringe, this show is the funniest thing I have seen so far. It is a show that both adults and children will find funny in equal measure, and yet this does not detract from the storytelling itself but is integral to it. A very difficult feat to pull off and I highly recommend that you see this superbly conceived show, with or without children.