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The Nightingale (tour - Norwich, Puppet Theatre)

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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.


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