Adventures in Bookland: Leaf by Niggle by JRR Tolkien
I had read this little story by JRR Tolkien many years ago and remember being strangely moved by it, but not much more. So when I heard that a theatre production of the story by the Puppet State Theatre Company was touring with it, we all went along to see it. As Richard Medrington, the performer and narrator of the performance, tells us at the beginning, the production company’s name is a bit of a misnomer for this production: there’s no puppets and it’s not really a theatre show, there being only one performer, Mr Medrington himself. But after a preamble, delving into his own family history for reasons that aren’t immediately clear but become so later, Medrington begins telling the story of the painter, Niggle, and his attempts to paint a painting of a landscape he glimpses in his imagination, but can’t quite grasp. And in the telling, something extraordinary, something almost miraculous happens: worlds unfold, hearts open, eyes are made clear, for a while at least, of the dirt of daily life and we see, we see… Well, what do we see? In the end, we see a glimpse of what Niggle saw: the world he strove to capture but never quite did, the worlds that Tolkien wrote about but never completely grasped, the worlds we hope and dream and think on. It was the most moving theatrical evening of my life. Richard Medrington and his team at Puppet State have done wonders with Tolkien’s little tale, and brought out the vast world that is necessary to make even one, little, leaf. If you ever get the chance to see the production, don’t miss it. Here’s the trailer for the show.
Oh, and that preamble about Richard Medrington’s family? Through the course of the performance, we all come to realise that artistic creation is not vain, even if it never finds an audience, for through it we are doing what we, as humans and, in Tolkien’s phrase, co-creators are put on this Middle-earth to do.