Told by Mike Maran (based on the writings of Juan Ramon Jimenez)
Music: Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco
Performer: Craig Ogden
Puppeteer: Nino Namitcheishvili
Director: Levan Tsuladze
Reviewer: Michael Gray
Produced by the same team which brought us Captain Corelli in 2011, this is a work on a much smaller scale, but in its way just as magical, and every bit as entertaining.
Mike Maran is first and foremost a storyteller. The text he works with here is a collection of prose poems, vignettes of life in Andalusia, with the poet and his little silver donkey Platero centre stage. Just over an hour, with a rosary of incidents and images, sometimes merging, sometimes punctuated by darkness.
Against a musical score for solo guitar, written for these verses in 1960 and specially recorded in Tblisi by Craig Ogden, Maran muses on Christopher Columbus and the Romans, the children of the poor, a swallow’s nest in the convent’s campanario. There are few other characters: Don Jose, the foul-mouthed priest, Darbón the bulky vet, the charcoal-burner’s daughter singing a lullaby. Movingly, he visits a children’s cemetary, with a touching reminiscence of each name. White snow gives way to red blossom, just like Fra Angelico’s vision of heaven. A canary savours a brief taste of freedom.
Our philosopher poet is joined on stage by Platero himself. He is a little puppet, the size of a kitten, perhaps. Big dark eyes, a long neck. Brought to charming and wholly convincing life by Nino Namitcheishvili. He walks on a rotating table, which is also the blank canvas for little buildings and trees, lovingly hand-crafted, like the poems themselves. Platero is dressed up as a camel at Christmas, peeps through a tiny doorway, peers over the poet’s shoulder as he reads Ronsard. But he is frightened by fireworks, and weeps at the carnival – like his master, he is “not cut out for such things”. He eats a poisonous root, sickens and dies; buried under the tall pine, his soul a butterfly, his body giving rides to the angels in heaven.
Maran’s instantly recognizable style, thoughtful, deliberate, spontaneous, is ideally suited to this text; we can easily believe that this is the man from Moguer, crafting his enchanting little poems anew for each audience.