‘Leaf By Niggle’ Goes To The Theatre

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Leaf by Niggle, February 2016

The Puppet State Theatre Company presents JRR Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle.

The show will be on tour from April to July 2016 with a press performance at the Festival Theatre Studio, Edinburgh on Saturday 16 April at 2.30pm.

Edinburgh-based Puppet State Theatre Company premieres a staged version of JRR Tolkien’s little-known short story, Leaf by Niggle. This storytelling show, created and performed by Richard Medrington, draws on Richard’s personal family history as an introduction to Tolkien’s original story.

Leaf by Niggle, February 2016
Leaf by Niggle, February 2016

Surrounded by ladders, bicycles and heirlooms, Richard Medrington (Jean from The Man Who Planted Trees) recounts Tolkien’s miniature masterpiece with a soundtrack composed by Karine Polwart and Michael John McCarthy.

Leaf by Niggle is considered by some to be Tolkien’s most autobiographical work, springing from his fear of not finishing The Lord of the Rings. In 1939, as war clouds were darkening, he woke up one morning with the story almost complete in his mind and wrote it down:

There was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it.  

Leaf by Niggle, February 2016
Leaf by Niggle, February 2016

Niggle is a struggling artist who is trying to complete his magnum opus, a painting of a curious tree. He isn’t sure when he will need to set out on his journey, but he is worried that he won’t be able to finish the painting before it’s time to leave.

Leaf by Niggle is often seen as an allegory of Tolkien’s own creative process, and, to an extent, of his life. It is a tale of transformation, which examines the relationship between an artist, his creation and his community.

Richard Medrington is the artistic director of Puppet State Theatre and for the past nine years the company has been touring the world with their much lauded production of Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees. The new adaptation of Leaf by Niggle is a reflection of Richard’s long held ambition to perform a staged version of the story. In 1993, Richard gave an acclaimed one-off storytelling performance of the piece at the Carberry Festival and has nurtured hopes of performing it to a wider audience ever since. The company is delighted to have received permission from the Tolkien Trust to bring the story to life in 2016.

Leaf by Niggle, February 2016
Leaf by Niggle, February 2016

Since I first read Leaf by Niggle I have had this urge to share it and over twenty five years that desire has only got stronger. 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.” Richard Medrington

“This is my first ever commission to compose for theatre and it’s a challenge and a joy to collaborate with such an accomplished creative posse. Niggle’s journey, and Richard Medrington’s beautifully personal and familial framing of it, feels quite close to the bone for me, and very relevant to our times. There are so many possible ways to receive it and get inside of it, as there are always with deep stories. But to me it’s about the fundamental human impulse to create and find meaning and beauty in life, and how duty, convention and the sheer necessity of toil can cut against this. The gap between the world as we imagine it and the world as it sometimes is – in all its reductive, mechanistic brutality – can be hard to hold in a single heart. But Niggle’s story feels hopeful nonetheless”. Karine Polwart

Performed by Richard Medrington; Soundtrack composed by Karine Polwart and Michael John McCarthy; Directed by Andy Cannon; Lighting by Gerron Stewart; Design Support by Ailie Cohen; Movement support by Janice Parker.

Richard and Andy have been invited onto the Janice Forsyth show on BBC Scotland on the 13th of April. Don’t miss it!

With thanks to the Tolkien Trust and the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Supported by Creative Scotland. Produced by Alice McGrath & Red Bridge Arts. Suitable for adults and young people aged 10 and over.

Touring to: Edinburgh, Stirling, Glasgow, Livingston, Cockermouth, Kendal, Tobermory, Dunfermline, Dumfries, New Galloway, Inverness, Banchory, Peebles and Findhorn.