Occasionally, at night when the sky is clear and sound, in being hardened by the solace afforded to darkness, presumes an unfamiliar clarity among one’s thoughts, it becomes possible to imagine music in the stars, and, in pursuing one’s dreams out across the roof-tops of urban settlements and through the quilted pastures which lie beyond, one may grow acutely sensitized to the lonely nocturnes of certain woodland birds, creatures that, in braving both the omnipresent threat of night and the silent claim of owls obliged to scour it’s precinct, are observed to adopt a singular significance in one’s mind…

In seeking to qualify one’s intrigue as to the identity of such creatures, pursuing their music through to it’s source in prospect of discovery, one may be surprised to learn that, despite the subtlety of their song, many of the night’s most eloquent communicators are, in terms of physical appearance, decidedly understated, a contradiction which serves to bless them with a character that demands further explanation, for, in being unprepared to defy the gauntlet of parochial reservations that typify diurnal chatter, such creatures are, through fluke of mischance, frequently perceived to stand alone against the sanctity of far vaster and more ominous preserves than they could possibly surmise, challenging the indiscriminacy and unseen hostility of immeasurable darkness garbed in nothing more than the dullest plumage.

In being perhaps one of the nature’s most vociferous nocturnal communicators “The Nightingale” serves to exemplify the peculiar paradox represented by such an apparel, being a bird of entirely unexceptional persuasion in all respects but for the beauty of it’s song, a term beneath which it is, before the lens of cursory appraisal, observed to possesses a markedly gentle rusticated aspect which presents no evidence to suggest that it harbors the musical ability for which it is celebrated…

Recorded to have been incorporated into a stage production performed by the Swedish singer “Jennifer Lind” at a Chinese themed pleasure garden in Copenhagen during the mid nineteenth century, the peculiar attributes of the “Nightingale”, were, through coincidence with the singer’s work, further observed to have inspired the great Danish story teller “Hans Christian Andersen” into drafting a fairy tale based upon the dramatization’s plot, a fusion of creative interests, which, in occurring directly before the outbreak of a Cholera epidemic in Paris that was witnessed to have claimed the life of “Jennifer Lind’s” fiancee the acclaimed instrumental composer “Frederick Chopin”, subsequently adopted a darker aspect, retrospectively betokening association with “John Keats’” tragic poem “Ode to a Nightingale”, and the frailty of human life before the onslaught of disease.

Conveyed beneath this apparel into the early twentieth century, both “Jennifer Lind’s” song and “Hans Christian Andersen’s” story were further adapted by “Igor Stravinsky” into the opera “Le Rossignoi” in 1914, a production which, in being choreographed by “Eduoarde Massine” and furnished with sets designed by the French Impressionist painter “Henri Matisse”, served to relieve the oppression cast over Europe by the First World War, a pretext beneath which “The Chinese Nightingale”, also choreographed by “Eduoarde Massine”, was ultimately staged by the celebrated shadow puppeteer “Lotte Reininger” in 1927.

Reputed to have been an entertaining production when first performed, “Reininger’s” interpretation of “the Nightingale” retained all of the elements which had initially served to bless the original tale with it’s charm, a format that, in preserving a comprehensive diagnostic of the various technicalities which had gone into it’s creation, was capable of providing inspiration for subsequent versions of the play.

Upon scanning through the internet in pursuit of details for forthcoming attractions in the London area, I was pleased to learn that the shadow puppeteer “Drew Colby” had been commissioned to conduct a recital of “Lotte Reininger’s” masterpiece for Kensington’s “Victoria and Albert Museum”, an account of the tale which, in being slightly modified to appeal to children, would feature in the Museum’s “Pop Up” series of shows during the academic half term period.

Briefly informing my mother of the event’s occurrence, I immediately made forth to book two tickets for the show, learning to my delight that there would be no entrance charge, admission being free upon a complimentary basis during the four days over which the production was scheduled to be performed.

Learning that the shows were to be staged as matinees in the establishments’s “Lydia and Manfred Gorvey Lecture Hall”, a surprisingly large auditorium situated among the canopy of chambers which glower invisibly down upon the edifice’s silver collection from it’s fifth floor, I promptly arranged to visit the museum accompanied by my mother in efforts to catch the event before it’s closure.

Arriving in Kensington by train upon the risen soot of a bleak February afternoon and forging swift passage up towards the magnificently engraved entrance portico which distinguishes the building’s Southern flank. I duly entered the museum and located the auditorium in which the show was due to be staged, taking my seat beneath the palisade of painted Tudor figures which, through association with “William Shakespeare”, serve to decorate it’s walls.

Recanting the tale of the ”Jianquing” emperor’s discovery that “the Nightingale” was the most beautiful creature in the Chinese empire, the play proceeded to describe the course of events which the ruler was rumored to have instituted to locate the bird among the country’s provinces, an instance in which a young maid, who was incidentally acquainted with the migratory pursuits of the breed, was ultimately observed to lead the royal court into a forest where the creature could be found.

Being returned back to the Royal Palace “the Nightingale” swiftly became the emperor’s favorite pet, however, after some years of listening enraptured by it’s melody, the ruler was circumstantially awarded a lavishly bejewelled mechanical interpretation of the creature that proved capable of emulating it’s song and rapidly became disinterested in his prize, allowing it to return back to the forest.

However, some time after the decision to release the woodland creature had been made, the mechanical bird broke and the Emperor fell ill, a circumstance which, in inexplicably being made known to “the Nightingale”, compelled it to return to the palace in efforts to assist it’s founder’s recovery, a process through which the bird was observed to sing a song of such sorrow that the specter of death which hung over the Emperor’s repose was compelled to relent, granting the sovereign a new lease of life.

Having miraculously recovered his health and ascribing his good fortune to the Nightingale’s song, the Emperor then felt eternally indebted to the bird and proceeded to offer it anything which it may desire within his kingdom by way of compensation, an offer that the bird selflessly refused beneath the provision that the ruler must never expose the secrets passed forth between them to his court.

Cleverly interpreted by the show’s producer “Astrid Hilne”, the present incarnation of “the Nightingale” remains as enchanting as it was when first conceived, describing the premium that artifice may presume over life until the event of death which served to provide the original tale with moral substance well.

Incorporating a number of interactive features designed to engage young audiences within it’s scheme, the present incarnation of “the Nightingale” includes both a series of multiple choice questions projected forth onto an overhead screen and requests to sing and dance alongside the cast within it’s repertoire, devices that succeed in achieving a genuinely collaborative atmosphere as the story progresses through it’s realm of incident.

Drew Colby’s” interpretation of the ailing emperor is both compelling and entertaining, his cameo casting an impressively austere shadow over the activities of his courtesans, a retinue of characters that, in being cleverly implied with a selection of shadows cast by hand onto a back-stage screen, are observed to bless the play with a comedic element that presents a convincing counterfoil for interaction with “Jo Girdlestone’s” enactment of the maid that, at the beginning of the tale, was initially observed to have found the Nightingale.

Lasting for approximately forty minutes, each performance of “the Nightingale” represents an enchanting foray into a fabulous subtly variegated world which, in existing beyond the strictures of reality, may be perceived to possess rules and conventions unique to itself, a fantastic realm described with nothing more than shadow in which all things appear possible and nothing is real.

Having watched “the Nightingale”, and been captivated by it’s magic, I can only recommend it to prospective audiences, an ideal venue to attend for families and school parties being especially suitable for young children with fertile imaginations.

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A Victorian man trapped in the twenty first century

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Tom Scrow

Tom Scrow

A Victorian man trapped in the twenty first century

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