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Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Leaf by Niggle

Puppet State Theatre Company

Genre: Storytelling, Theatre

Venue: Scottish Storytelling Centre


Low Down

The intimate story of Niggle, who struggles to finish his painting – written at the time J.R.R. Tolkien was struggling to conclude Lord of the Rings. Niggle goes on a journey, brilliantly staged and told by Puppet State Theatre’s Richard Medrington.


Leaf by Niggle is a show based on a story written by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1939 while he was struggling to conclude his well-known novel Lord of the Rings.

The story is exquisitely told by company founder and storyteller Richard Medrington, who also played Jean in the wildly successful and highly regarded Puppet State Theatre Company’s The Man Who Planted Trees, which toured internationally, recently. Richard Medrington is a storyteller’s storyteller, he is masterful at what he does and it is a pleasure to spend seventy-five minutes in his company. In addition, Tolkien’s story is rich with intricacies and literary symbolism. It all adds up to an excellent show that is entertaining and inspiring.

Interestingly, the main character in Leaf by Niggle is an artist called Niggle, who is so busy and interrupted so often that he cannot finish his painting of a tree to his satisfaction. This being a Tolkien story, Niggle, the protagonist goes on a long journey, far longer than he anticipated in order to complete his painting. Some think that this is an allegory of Tolkien himself as he was trying to complete Lord of the Rings.

This intimate story about Niggle’s journey is staged imaginatively in a very compelling setting, as if the viewer is invited to step inside the storyteller’s home. The attractive set has an air of yesteryear and plays a significant part in the story as Medrington relates the carefully selected pieces to the storyteller’s own life. Personal memorabilia, such as a relative’s watercolour book, a wooden ladder containing much-loved books are described through personal anecdotes before and during the performance. It is this aspect that makes the show more – and it is a brilliant touch. The audience is being led into the storyteller’s world gently by the hand and then seamlessly join Niggle, who is seeking to finish his painting, which becomes huge as he is constantly interrupted and his journey expands.

Medrington switches effectively between himself, the narrator and the characters using changes of voice and accents. He also uses a variety of physicality as he moves around the stage space of the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s comfortable theatre. His performance is natural, warm, and sincere, and he is graced with wonderful timing in his delivery. His facial expressions with eye contact relate to the audience, drawing everyone in personally.

Karine Polwart and Michael John McCarthy compose the original music for this show, and together with the subtle sound effects and lighting all enhance the production, by bringing it to life and completing it. It is not often that you find a show that appeals to all ages, but this one certainly does. So off you go through the gates and doorways…travel across the lakes, up the grass slopes, down the mountains, and through the garden with Niggle on his journey…it is well worth it!