Hans Christian Andersen's fairy
stories are not always filled with sweetness and light. Take, for
example, The Nightingale. In it the emperor keeps
captive a live bird until the gift of a mechanical and jewelled
automaton leads him to discard the real thing.
Horse and Bamboo have created a
variation on this well-known story which mingles several types of
puppetry with live actors, mime and masks. The protagonist is a boy
king with a very low boredom threshold, as his long-suffering nurse
explains. He no sooner receives a gift that he throws it away, in the
vain hope that the next present to arrive on his birthday might be
more exciting. Of course, it never is.
Also working in the palace is Lucinda,
a shy girl who longs to be friends with the young king. She receives
much the same treatment as the discarded presents but begins to hope
that he might change when a nightingale flies into his bedroom and
enchants him with its song. Then the automaton is delivered; hope and
live bird alike are hurled out of the window.
The puppets are mainly rod ones and
very well made, as are the masks. Other visual influences, such as
oriental shadow puppetry, take over as the king finally sets out on
his quest to be reunited with his lost bird. Although skilfully
handled, this is perhaps just a little too sophisticated for a very
young audience. Aya Nakamura and Mark Whitaker are the operators
and actors in Alison Duddle's piece, which has an evocative musical
accompaniment by Sarah Moody.