Downstage Theatre, Wellington

11/03/2013 - 15/03/2013

Fletcher Construction Festival Studio at The Arts Centre, Christchurch

05/09/2015 - 06/09/2015

Concert Chamber - Town Hall, THE EDGE, Auckland

09/03/2013 - 09/03/2013

Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

29/08/2015 - 30/08/2015

Auckland Arts Festival 2013


Capital E National Arts Festival

Christchurch Arts Festival 2015

Production Details

A shepherd decides to restore a barren wasteland by single-handedly cultivating a forest, acorn by acorn, tree by tree. This multi-sensory theatrical adaptation of Jean Giono’s environmental classic is as much a touching tale as it is a hilarious puppet show. The Man Who Planted Trees shows us the difference one man (and his dog!) can make to the world.

“Laughs, heartbreak, war, regeneration, scented breezes, sparkling wit and the best dog puppet ever. Perfect for children and grown-ups. Terrific.” the guardian 

“Jean Giono’s story surely belongs among the most moving and endearing statements of our hope.” Wendell Berry

“The Man Who Planted Trees is a book I have always loved. Having read the story again and again, I know it is true – not true in the literal sense of course, but each of us in our own way can and must try to leave the earth a better place than we found it – we must leave a gentle footprint behind us.” Michael Morpurgo, writer of The War Horse

Note from Puppet State Theatre Company

We are delighted still to be touring The Man Who Planted Trees. We have performed this production well over a thousand times since 2006 in venues from tents on windswept hillsides, tiny village halls on remote Scottish islands to the Lincoln Center Institute and the Sydney Opera House.

In adapting this wonderful story, we wanted to be faithful to the original text while bringing humour through an expanded role for the tree-planting shepherd’s dog. Rick Conte’s gift for puppetry and comedy made him the right man for the job of bringing the dog to life.

Ailie Cohen’s simple set design makes use of burlap, with its rough earthy texture that doesn’t immediately suggest ‘fabric’, but evokes the dry, sun-scorched earth before the trees are planted. She wanted both the shepherd and his dog to seem to belong to the land, so they too are largely made of burlap.

Inspiration for the multi-sensory elements – the smells of the French countryside before and after the trees are planted, as well as mist and rain and wind – came from the original story too.

There is something about this story that seems to strike a chord wherever we go and for that reason – as well as the fact that we get to make up new bits all the time – we never tire of performing it.

In 1957 the author Jean Giono said: “I wrote this story to make people love trees, or more precisely to make people love planting trees. Of all my stories it is one of the ones of which I am most proud. It has never earned me a penny and for that reason it has accomplished the very purpose for which it was written.”

But this is much more than a story about planting trees: it is a wonderful parable of life, the tale of a human being who saw a need and decided not to ignore it but to “put things right” . The story is also known as “The Man Who Planted Hope and Reaped Happiness” and it holds a vital message for this generation. Maybe we all have a supply of acorns hidden away somewhere …

We hope that you bug a bookseller or librarian and get hold of a copy of The Man Who Planted Trees and discover why we fell in love with the story.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Anne Frank 

Recommended for adults and children aged 7+

The Man Who Planted Trees

Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall
Sat 9 Mar at 10.30am & 1.30pm
Duration 1hr
Age Suitable for adults and children ages 7+
Price: GA Adult $20 / GA Child $12
Book at THE EDGE: 357 3355 / 0800 289 842

Education Dates: Mon 11 – Fri 15 March
Public Show: 2pm Sat 16 March
Venue: Downstage Theatre
Age: 7 – 14 years

Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace 
Sat Aug 29 & Sun Aug 30, 2015

Fletcher Construction Festival Studio at The Arts Centre
Saturday 5 & Sunday 6 September 2015
TICKETS:  All tickets $16
BOOKINGS: | 0800 TICKETEK (842 538)

Richard Medrington – Jean
Rick Conte – Jean’s Colleague

Sound Design - Barney Strachan
Set and Puppet Design - Ailie Cohen
Lighting Design - Elspeth Murray 

Theatre , Puppetry ,

1hr 5mins

Uplifting, edifying, impressive

Review by Grant Hindin Miller 05th Sep 2015

The Puppet State Theatre Company has performed this delightful production over 1400 times since 2006, in such diverse venues as tents on windswept hillsides, tiny villages on remote Scottish islands, London’s Southbank Centre and New York’s Lincoln Center Institute. 

Billed for children and families, this show has the elegance of simplicity, the refinement of mastery, the magic of live theatre and does justice to the poetic imagination of its Provencal author, Jean Giono. In 1957 Giono said, “Of all my stories it is one of the ones of which I am most proud … I wrote this story to make people love trees.”

Ailie Cohen, Richard Medrington and Rick Conte have adapted the tale for stage and it is the latter two who perform what becomes an enchanting theatrical experience. They begin by introducing a Basil Brush like dog who is, in fact, called ‘Dog’. This creates immediate rapport, particularly with the children. Having won us over they introduce the story proper and invite Dog to act in it. 

The rendering of the story is interspersed with colourful interactions with Dog who is not beyond comic word-play; when overestimating the number of the present audience Dog is told that he needs to have his eyes checked. He counters by saying that he has had them checked “by a vegetarian” who reveals that in fact “my eyes are buttons”. Such playful interludes keep the children excited and engaged as the more serious tale unfolds. 

The Man who Planted Trees is a story of selflessness, purposefulness; a story of renaissance, rebirth; a story of making good in spite of difficulties. As such it is uncannily poignant to a Christchurch audience on the 5th anniversary of its largest earthquake. 

Presented with simple props – a model of a Provencal house, two wooden peasant chairs, a bucket with a well in it, a candle, a shepherd’s crook – the artful use of short musical sound bites, a spray of lavender oil then mint, and the puppets themselves: running sheep, flying birds, an officious French bureaucrat, and of course the ‘man’ of the title, a simple dedicated shepherd who loves trees, it is all so charming. 

The commitment of the performers to the individual characters in each sequence of the story is exemplary. I love this performance. 

The theatre is full. Half of the audience is between the ages of five and ten. They laugh and sigh and watch the tale unfold without fidgeting or talking. These consummate and sensitive actors hold their attention for an hour and a quarter. The Man who Planted Trees is an uplifting, edifying and impressive piece of theatre. 

There is still a chance to see this unique production – 1 pm on Sunday 6th September at the Fletcher Construction Festival Studio (also known as the ‘Old Gym’). Go and see it.


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Gentle and meandering

Review by Holly Shanahan 30th Aug 2015

Based on the novel by Jean Giono, The Scottish Puppet State Theatre’s production of The Man Who Planted Trees is a piece of simple storytelling and puppetry. It is a tale of selflessness, patience and commitment to a cause greater than yourself: a relevant and touching theme to present to children.

Two performers play all the roles in the story, including the narrator. The show is cleverly introduced with the puppeteers and the ‘star’ puppet – a very funny dog – sitting down for a chat by means of introduction.

The dog and storyteller Joel give us the scoop on the show: Joel is about to tell a story, and he wants the dog to play a role in it. A fluffy purse-size basket-dwelling dog, he is a laugh a minute, and what he lacks in intellect he makes up for in enthusiasm. There are a number of clever jokes appealing to both the younger and older audience here. We learn that dog has just been to the “vegetarian” to check a problem with his eyes… which turns out to be… “they’re buttons”.

The storytelling is gentle and meandering, with a dream-like quality to it, heightened by the accompanying instrumental French songs. In an (acorn) nutshell: Elsiard Bouchier is a shepherd whom Joel encounters on his travels in France. Elsiard is an old man who has lost his wife and son. Moving to the country with his dog and his sheep, he commits his days to planting 100 trees a day in a barren area of Provence.

We follow Joels’ encounters with Elsiard and the dog over the years, from 1913 until well after the second world war. The forest grows to affect and change the lives of everyone living in the area, despite the challenges of the decades.

This theme of slow change counterpoints our modern climate, which seems to emphasise an ‘everything now’ mentality, and is wonderful for children to learn. Sometimes we don’t know the heroes right under our noses. This man did not want the recognition, he simply wanted to do something he felt was meaningful.

I enjoy the multi-sensory elements of smell and touch (a bit of rain and mist never hurt anyone, especially not an audience full of kids!). By the end of the show the theatre has a feeling of the forest, with a dampness to the air and the smell of minty leaves. 

Only three key puppets are used: the dog, Elsiard, and a sinister politician /prime minister. While the puppeteering is excellent, I find the theatre far too large for the scale of the puppets. Much of the subtleties are lost, and the Theatre Royal dwarfs the production.

Unfortunately, I also don’t feel the production quite justifies bringing it from the UK. There are companies doing comparable puppet work here in NZ, including Trick of the Light and Capital E Kids Theatre.

Some of the audience are clearly under the 7yr age recommendation, which I think is a shame, as the story and style of puppetry really won’t appeal to younger children who become disruptive to the experience.

On the whole, the tale itself and the dog are great, however I leave feeling a little disappointed. Perhaps I have expected too much.


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Abuzz with creative life-force

Review by John Smythe 12th Mar 2013

The Man Who Planted Trees is presented in a wonderfully relaxed yet whimsical style and tone. Pitched, according to the Capital E National Arts Festival brochure, at 7-14 year olds, this is a story, play and production that respects its audience and doesn’t play down to them.

Silence is the first thing to draw us in: the anticipation of what may come, as Richard Medrington strolls on, takes a seat and contemplates his surroundings. The simple puppet theatre set he’s in front of features a rustic house, outhouse and washing line. Stylised trees, made from hessian and cane, stand either side. There is a sound of insects: nature at work …

A second man (Rick Conte) slips in behind the set and next minute a Dog in a basket is greeting us all, and Jean (Medrington). The whimsical word-play that riddles the ensuing chat is hugely enjoyed by the children from Queen Margaret and Wellesley Colleges, who pack Downstage Theatre.

Apart from the puns, the metaphysical whimsy inherent in the Dog’s concern about “the guy who’s always behind me” enriches the fun we are having, as Jean prepares to tell the story and Dog scores a role (not a roll – sausage, filled or otherwise – although once he ‘hits his stride’, he could be said to be on one).

Also known as The Story of Elzéard Bouffier, The Most Extraordinary Character I Ever Met, and The Man Who Planted Hope and Reaped Happiness, French author Jean Giono’s allegorical tale has even more urgent meaning now than when it was first published in 1953, in the devastated wake of two World Wars.

Another hand-held puppet (Conte) brings the shepherd, Bouffier, ‘to life’ – Jean greets him in French, without translation – and the epic story plays out, of how one man slowly but surely, over decades that span those wars, turns a desolate wasteland in Provence into a micro-climate that literally buzzes with the intricate, life-giving chain-reactions of nature. But this is no cutesy ‘Johnny Appleseed’ fable. Bouffier is fallible. He makes mistakes and learns from them.

He is also an unsung hero, as politicians and dignitaries ignore the actions of a lowly shepherd and bask in all the glory themselves – then threaten to destroy it for short-term gain (if ‘gain’ can be used to mean fuelling the war machine). It’s great to hear such platitudes as “Time is money and money is power!” held up for questioning. Not that ‘progress’ is cast as always bad: the value of modern housing and thriving neighbourhoods is indicated with new houses replacing the old shacks.

The plethora of follow-up topics that arise from this play must be a joy for any teacher, not least because the way the story gets told makes it inevitable that the children will be inquisitive and keen to investigate further and play with the ideas.

The decision to make no secret of the simple storytelling devices that enliven the production will also stimulate creativity, without a doubt. The way perfume is wafted into the air is a new one on me. And the manifestation of mist and rain brings its own chain-reaction of delight and excitement to the audience.

Any story about life – because that’s what the forest has brought to Provence – would not be complete without death being mentioned and this is done exquisitely.

The engagement of the children with every facet of The Man Who Planted Trees is palpable. The theatre is abuzz with a creative life-force that will spread, forest-like, into the wider world thanks to the seed planted this way on this day.  

[Schools performances continue all week then there is a public show at 2pm on Saturday 16 March.] 


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Blunt messages and delicious silliness

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 10th Mar 2013

I may be wrong but there seems to be a worldwide resurgence of puppet theatre, both traditional and innovatively modern, and while Puppet State Theatre Company of Edinburgh, Scotland falls into the more traditional category there are still some exciting recent innovations in their work, not the least of which is the charming, if somewhat moist, interaction between puppeteer/actors and their all-ages audience. 

We are told on the company’s website that The Man Who Planted Trees,which premiered in 2006, “is the inspiring story of a shepherd who plants a forest, acorn by acorn, and shows us the difference one man (and his dog!) can make to the world.” The Guardian adds that “laughs, heartbreak, war, regeneration, scented breezes, sparkling wit and the best dog puppet ever” make experiencing this show something to remember.

I’m not sure Basil Brush would agree but then Basil was a fox after all and The Guardian is correct on all counts as this show is ‘terrific’. 

Based on Jean Giono’s classic 1953 tale of many names – L’homme qui plantait des arbres, The Story of Elzéard Bouffier, The Most Extraordinary Character I Ever Met, and The Man Who Planted Hope and Reaped Happiness – we encounter, through the eyes of a young man out hiking, a shepherd who plants a forest of trees, initially acorn by acorn but in time adding birch and beech, thereby transforming a desolate wilderness into a fruitful paradise with only the help of his trusty dog Dog.

It’s not all plain sailing, however, and the 10,000 maples Bouffier plants all die because the conditions aren’t right and, with that, the story hits home another message.

It’s quite a journey, beginning as it does in 1910, traversing two world wars and a change of occupation for the shepherd who becomes a beekeeper – because his sheep keep chewing the saplings and for reasons of pollination – and ending in 1947 in a hospice in Banon where the old man passes away. In Puppet State Theatre Company’s version the dog is a constant presence right to the end, at which time he would have been 291 dog years old. We’re happy he doesn’t pass on because Dog is a very, very special character and, while we lose the old man, losing the dog would have been a step too far. 

It’s a very early environmental tale. Puppet State Theatre Company has retained its blunt messages and, through Dog, ensures that it also maintains a very real modernity. 

So good is Giono’s storytelling that for years his readers believed that the narrator was indeed the author and that shepherd Elzéard Bouffier was a real person but, later in his life, Giono made it clear that his was an allegorical tale and that all his characters were fictional. 

The set is simple – a trio of movable structures in tans and browns that hide the puppet plumbing – and the style is direct to the audience. The actors use the set in subtle ways as the forest grows. A change in political fortunes sees a change of colour and imagery on the set – a swastika-like image appears on a blood red front banner – and at the end the land is green and pleasant.

It is invigorating to see home truths so sensibly and bluntly stated when the standard fare handed up to kids in 2013 invariably involves a Wiggle World of Jeff asleep, a big red car and Dora doing a spot of exploring. As my spouse reminds me afterwards, there were 16 million deaths and 17 million casualties in World War I, a fact we tend not to expose kids to today, as though somehow they couldn’t handle it. They can, of course. Kids are far stronger and more resilient than we ever believe.  

Dog is very contemporary and there are delightful exchanges, many of which involve complex word plays that delight both adult and child audience members. Dog has trouble with his eyes so he goes to his doctor who is, of course, a vegetarian. By the time we realise that he means veterinarian his doctor has identified the problem with his eyes – they’re buttons! This delicious silliness keeps us engaged as the story works its magic.

The puppeteers offer Dog a role in the play. Dog wonders whether they mean a sausage or a spring roll – he prefers sausage – and, after much hilarious discussion about the tradition of ‘break a leg’ he accepts. He’s an experienced actor, he tells us, having played the lead in The Hound of the Basketballs, his school play, where some audience members almost stayed to the end.  

The narrator takes us into some interesting metaphysical areas as he realises that the shepherd isn’t engaged in his project simply for personal pleasure but has a far greater plan and the belief that, whenever you take on a life changing project, there will always be a line-up of people finding reasons why you can’t do it. In 1939, the narrator tells us, there is “a war to be won and money to be made.”

There are special moments, such as when both puppeteers take over the operation of the same puppet – a post war MP, the bad puppet in the story – and where they take collaboration to an entirely new level, and “the mists in the morning and the rain in the evening” which is so important to the story that we all have to experience it. My son whispers “hide your note pad, Mumsie” but I am too late and am happily looking at the smudged results as I type. 

The show ends with a question from Dog to man: what’s the first word learned by both actors and dogs – and I’ll leave you to work that out! 

While the Puppet State Theatre Company is based in Edinburgh the show doesn’t have an innately Scottish feel but retains a charming sense of its Gallic origins. 

It’s been around a bit, too, this show, and in an interesting interview between Renee Liang (The Big Idea) and Puppet State Theatre Companyco-creator Richard Medrington, we learn that The Man Who Planted Trees has toured the world and been performed in tents on windswept hillsides, tiny village halls on remote Scottish islands, the Lincoln Centre and the Sydney Opera House. (Liang, 2013)

Medrington is of the opinion that the love affair people of all ages have with puppets is “a great mystery”. When pushed he suggests that “somehow we suspend our disbelief when we see what we know to be an inanimate object brought to life. As children we love to play and make-believe, and perhaps most of us never lose this ability.” The applause and engagement from the audience ‘of all ages’ in an almost-full Concert Chamber would suggest he’s right about that.

Richard Medrington founded Puppet State Theatre Company in 2003 and his collaboration with fellow performer, puppeteer and Dog wrangler Rick Conte, designer /director Ailie Cohen and tech-of-all-trades Elspeth Murray began, we are told, soon after that. Let’s hope it continues for a long time because their work is unique and entirely ideal arts festival fare. 


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