Rave Reviewed Show ‘Leaf by Niggle’ Tours D&G

One of Tolkein’s lesser known works has haunted theatrical performance artist Richard Medrington for over two decades.

The Edinburgh-based compulsive playwright, performer and storyteller read Leaf by Niggle in 1993 and believed it would make an excellent show.

At the time, Richard of Puppet State Theatre, was a puppet performer. He is well-known for his spellbinding and thought-provoking work on The Man Who Planted Trees which has won him seven prestigious awards during its 10-year run.

Determined to perform the story, he approached the Tolkein Trust who, although they did not agree that puppetry was a relevant medium for portraying the story, allowed Richard to perform it in a one-off storytelling piece at the Carberry Festival.

“After that, I couldn’t get the story out of my head,” said Richard.

“So in 2013, I approached the trust again with a view to turning this into a performance without puppets and they agreed.

“The story seems to offer different things each time I come to it, changing like the weather. Unlike most of Tolkien’s stories, there are no wizards or elves, but it’s a little bit magical all the same.

“This is the first time I have performed a show without puppets so I’m using a lot of props, many of them old family objects retrieved from my mother’s attic.”

Leaf by Niggle is the story of a painter, Niggle, who is obsessed with completing one particular canvas – a picture of a tree with a vast landscape stretching out behind it. The painting keeps getting bigger and bigger, but Niggle has a journey to make.

In 1939 Tolkien was despairing of ever bringing his great work The Lord of the Rings to a conclusion. One morning he woke up with the story Leaf by Niggle complete in his mind and wrote it down.

This poignant tale, about an artist on a curious journey, is often seen as an allegory of the writer’s own creative process and life.

Surrounded by ladders, bicycles, easels and heirlooms, Richard recounts Tolkien’s miniature masterpiece, with music specially composed by Karine Polwart and Michael John McCarthy.

“I am a big fan of Karine,” Richard explained. “She came to see The Man Who Planted Trees a couple of years ago and loved it.

“When I finally got permission from the trust to perform the show, I immediately asked Karine if she would be interested in providing a soundtrack, she was very keen.

“Both Karine and Glasgow-based composer Michael John McCarthy got together and were involved in the entire process of development and production. It was a great experience.”

Since the show premiered at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre in April, Leaf by Niggle is receiving high praise and the list of five star reviews just keeps growing.

The performance is suitable for 10 years and upwards but Richard says Leaf by Niggle is not intrinsically a children’s show.

“It is very thought-provoking and there are very many layers to the story that may go over the heads of younger or less mature children,” Richard said.

“One of my favourite reviews was from and 11-year-old member of the audience who said: ‘If you use even a tiny amount of your imagination, a picture forms in your head and then a story starts forming too. I really, really loved it. I would give it five stars’.”

Richard added: ”The most interesting thing is that people tend to stick around after the performances. The story stays with them and they want to talk about it.”

Leaf by Niggle comes to the Theatre Royal, Dumfries, on Wednesday, 25 May and to the CatStrand, New Galloway, on Thursday, 26 May. The time for both shows is 7.30pm.

Tickets from the Midsteeple box office (half price for the under 26s) on 01387 253383.

Further information from www.dgartsfestival.org.uk

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