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My Grandfather was a Cherry TreeShadow puppet performance, length 45 min

My Grandfather was a Cherry Tree, photo Jaka Varmuž
“I can hear it, grandpa, I can hear it...” says Tonino when his grandfather asks him to close his eyes and listen to the cherry tree breathing. Tonino hears the rustle of leaves in the wind, the groan of branches, the singing of birds—he hears life...

Now an adult, Tonino uses the metaphor of the cherry tree planted when his mother was born to tell a tender story about life. Old photographs bring to life his childhood images and memories of his favourite summers, those spent in the company of his quirky grandfather, frolicking, climbing trees, and making friends with geese. Memories of their profound connection, when his grandpa would teach him about the beauties of nature and life, about their cyclical, mysterious character. Through a child’s eyes, a myriad of humorous and warm adventures unfolds, gently unveiling the harsher aspects of life and the array of emotions they arouse.

One day, the city council decides to cut down the cherry tree to make way for a new road. Will Tonino allow the fall of something so magnificent, something that transcends one human life and contains all his fondest memories?

The story of family ties, intergenerational relationships, life, and its passing is a reminder that miracles are possible if only we open our hearts. Wonder, curiosity, and childlike honesty can be found across generations—and in the breath of a cherry tree.

My Grandfather Was a Cherry Tree (Mio nonno era un ciliegio, 1997), a book by the Italian writer Angela Nanetti, was translated into more than 23 languages and won several literary awards. The theatrical adaptation by Enrica Carini and Fabrizio Montecchi, directed by Montecchi, translates the sublimity and sensuousness into a subtle shadow puppet production.

There are three trillion trees on Earth, an unbelievable number. Sadly, a staggering 900 million are cut down each year, or around two and a half million per day. Nature protection and environmental movements are increasingly vocal in highlighting the importance of trees for the planet, as well as promoting alternative lifestyles and the production and use of materials that are less damaging to the planet and which allow for sustainable development in harmony with nature.

Planting a tree when a child is born is an act of kindness to the environment. This way, the tree can grow together with the child, reminding the child of their youth and the person who planted it even after that person is gone. In Italy, this is a much stronger tradition than in Slovenia; in communities with more than 15,000 people, it is even a law. In a measure aimed at creating more green spaces in towns and cities, the local council is obliged to acquire and finance the planting of a new tree within six months of the birth or adoption of a child. Let’s embrace this story and follow Italy’s example: let’s uphold the ancient tradition, take care of the environment, and plant our little trees of life.

Fabrizio Montecchi is one of the leading puppet theatre directors in the world, known for opening up the traditionally constrained space of shadows to exuberant dynamics and possibilities of animation. What we see emerge before us are varying combinations of the moving screen, the source of light, shadow objects, and shadow; of the shadow as a puppet that thoroughly underpins a memory, and the shadow as a character. At times, the latter appears as a soft imaginary sound or a silhouette of the past that helps us enter a memory. Tonino’s narrative transcends into dreamy interstices and shadowy memories. For a brief instance, the memories become real, and the past is given the time and space to re-materialise. The shadows of memories constantly follow us as a benevolent presence, blurring the boundary between the present and the past. Meanwhile, the finality of death transforms into a matter of perception. Memories acquire the power to be part of the present, of what is still present. 

Fabrizio Montecchi, a director, graduate in set design and architecture, and one of the leading figures of contemporary shadow theatre, was born in Italy in 1960. During his architecture studies in Venice, he joined the theatre group Teatro Gioco Vita in Piacenza. As a director and set designer, he worked with some of the key theatres in Italy (La Scala, Milan; La Fenice, Venice; Teatro dell'Opera, Rome; Arena di Verona) and worldwide. His award-winning productions have been invited to leading international festivals. In the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre (LGL), Montecchi directed the praised 2014 production of Wolf Erlbruch’s Duck, Death, and the Tulip, which went on to receive twelve awards in numerous appearances across the world, and the 2017 production of Virginia Wolf. Montecchi is a regular speaker in workshops and international theatre schools. 

“What is the role of theatre in society when there are so many media outlets, technical means, and languages that are so powerful? We must rediscover direct communication with the audience and raise important issues. In theatre, this is still possible.”  Fabrizio Montecchi

Opening night: 16 September 2021
LGL Sentjakob Stage
2021/2022 season


Author: Angela Nanetti
Directed by: Fabrizio Montecchi
Cast: Martina Maurič Lazar, Brane Vižintin, Matevž Müller
Adaptation: Enrica Carini, Fabrizio Montecchi
Translation: Veronika Simoniti
Dramaturgy: Tjaša Bertoncelj
Ilustration: Damijan Stepančič
Music: Mitja Vrhovnik Smrekar
Puppets, Set and Costumes Production: Iztok Bobić, Zala Kalan, Sandra Birjukov, Marjetka Valjavec, David Klemenčič, Katarina Planinc, Uroš Mehle, s.p., Zlatko Djogić, Zoran Srdić