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Leaf by Niggle review at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘intricately layered’

Richard Medrington in Leaf by Niggle at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Brian Hartley Richard Medrington in Leaf by Niggle at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Brian Hartley

Deceptively simple, Richard Medrington’s take on JRR Tolkien’s short story, Leaf by Niggle, finds layers of meaning and hope in a tale that is big in regret and disappointment.

Niggle is a small man, ordinary and silly, whose ambitions as a painter are thwarted by an overly kind heart which won’t let him ignore a plea for aid. His one real ability is to draw leaves – and from such a drawing grows a great painting of a tree. Yet in his procrastination, he never finishes it.

Medrington relates the story verbatim on a stage which is set with items from Medrington’s own family history. The story itself is prefaced by his explanation and introduction of these items – and the warning that this will be neither about Tolkien’s dwarfs, wizards and dragons, nor will there be puppets, for those who know Medrington for the children’s show, The Man Who Planted Trees, which he has been touring internationally for a decade.

Yet both parties will find comfort. The story is very much an allegory of Tolkien’s own life. While Medrington’s telling develops the style of the previous show. Andy Cannon directs him with such attention to detail that extra, unwritten vistas of the story appear. The family items, and their histories, give it a humanity which allow its rather clipped, 1930s language to speak to a contemporary audience.

Karine Polwart and Michael John McCarthy’s musical soundtrack is sparse but deliberate, adding to the intensity of the piece. As does Gerron Stewart’s pinpoint accurate lighting design. A delight for anyone over ten – maybe younger – with strong powers of concentration.

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Simply told but intricately layered telling of Tolkien's short story