After thirteen years and with over 1,700 performances under their belts, you would think that Puppet State Theatre – the company behind The Man Who Planted Trees – would pack up their acorns and have a bit of a rest. It’s a pleasure to say that the company are still performing this astoundingly delightful show, and are bringing theatre to people of all ages with a tale that is sadly more vital than ever.
In 2019 this piece is glaringly important. Not only because of its ecological standpoint, but also due to its nuanced themes of neighbourly respect, kindness and appreciation. Adapted from the short story by Jean Giono, the show follows Elzéard Bouffier, a shepherd who single-handedly begins to re-plant 10,000 trees. He does so without seeking praise or glory – it is only Jean (and Bouffier’s dog) who realise the tremendous feat the man undertakes.
It is remarkably rare to find a production which appeals to the masses without cheap tactics, relying simply on the power of its storytelling and the raw, emotional heart of its message. It’s spectacular that so much can be communicated here with through theatrical magic, exquisite world-building and cracking humour.
With the same puppets in use for over a decade, cherished by puppeteers and audience alike, there’s a deep warmth to this multi-sensory and engaging production. The power and importance of The Man Who Planted Trees only increases with age. It is an exquisite balance of humour, emotion, heart, war, pain and beauty. This isn’t only something to catch during the Fringe – this is something to see anytime you can.
It’s November, we hear you say, so what, who cares? Christmas is on the way. How better to celebrate, than with a children’s classic, so join The Grinch for some Dr Seuss magic. Suffice to say, rhymes may feature throughout – but please, try not to pout.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas has proven itself a timeless literary classic from America’s Dr Seuss. Its simplistic narrative of the callous Grinch, who thieves away Cindy Lou and the rest of Whoville’s Christmas has gone from popularity to an icon of the Christmas period. Now, making a UK premiere from Broadway, this musical production seeks to grow the hearts of an Edinburgh audience three-times over, no mean feat indeed…
Deliciously vile, seething with mean, Baker-Duly goes an extra mile, especially clad in green. The titular Grinch is now as iconic a symbol of the festive season as his Victorian counterpart Ebenezer Scrooge. Everything is sumptuously perfect in Edward Baker-Duly’s take on the fuzzy monstrosity, he’s the bad guy we all love to hate, but at the end of it, his characterisation goes far and beyond expectations. His physicality is transformative, this is no performer – this is the Dr Seuss character, and while mannerisms have no doubt been borrowed from the famous Jim Carrey take, Baker-Duly goes for a less juvenile, sarky incarnation of the role. Though the musical nature of the production has it’s swings and misses, his solo performance of One of a Kind is decadently hilarious, striking all the correct notes. There is though, one rather infamous number, which stands out above the rest – for could you stage a Grinch musical without a rendition of Thurls Ravenscroft’s You’re A Mean One?
With plenty of tricks and vocals to spare, our old dog may prosper, but the younger misses by a hair. Taking the narration away from Gregor Fisher, for some reason, How The Grinch Stole Christmas is told to us, in verse, by Old Max, The Grinch’s berated dog companion reflecting back on how his Master’s lack of compassion led him to once steal the holiday cheer from those merry, if disgustingly chipper Whos of Whoville. Steve Fortune is adorable in the role, and his solo numbers reveal a compelling control which overcomes any issues of the live band drowning out the rest. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable role, with good humour and heart, but unfortunately the same cannot be extended to Young Max. Taking the collar for Max’s younger self, Matt Terry is fully capable of the role but is trying too hard, to the extent he feels unnatural, almost appearing to seek out the spotlight.
Now let it be said, quite often child-performers are something to dread. Then one comes along with exceptional ability, who outshines the adults and offers some humility. Young rising start Isla Gie fits in well with the adult Whos, but the reality is that she overcasts them. In no fault of Gie’s, this is a tremendous compliment to a young performer who captures the pathos of the narrative and holds her vocals splendidly. She shows how some of the older performers aren’t up to scratch in comparison, a few creating awkward scene transitions with an otherwise well-constructed set by John Lee Beatty.
It isn’t all about actors we do have to say, for there are behind-the-scenes creators whose respect we must pay. Illustrative in construct, complimentary in tone, Beatty’s set work is a tribute to the storybook all on its own. Complimenting the storybook decor superbly, Pat Collins lustrous lighting casts extraordinary colours against the monochrome.
Not without fault, The Grinch shines ever so bright, decked out in green,
it’s rather a sight. For the occasions where How The Grinch
Stole Christmas may
slip on a greasy black banana peel, it counteracts with mirthful performers but
feels the necessity to rely on tropes in a futile attempt to grasp at a younger
audience, who are already invested in the timeless tale. Where it sticks to its
roots, with rejuvenation from aesthetics and brilliant costume design
courteously of Robert Morgan, The Grinch is stealing more than baubles and trees, but
accelerating young hearts and old imaginations.