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Children's shows - reviews

The Nightingale

Trestle Arts Base, St Albans
22 December 2012, 4.30pm

I have to say that before our visit to The Nightingale at Trestle Arts Base, I thought it was risky.

Firstly, the recommended age was 4+ and V is nearly 3. Secondly, the production had neither a familiar story or familiar characters. V is used to shows but so far, there has always been something in them that she canrecognise, be it Peppa Pig or the Gruffalo or an ever smiling CBeebies presenter.

However, finding out it was under an hour long, and after a quick chat with Trestle’s artistic director and armed with jaffa cakes, I decided to take the plunge. I need not have worried.

Based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, and featuring conventional hand held puppets, shadow puppets, masks, original music and animation, the Horse + Bamboo Theatre proved that if you have a good story and you tell it in an amazingly visual way, it will engage even the most restless toddler.

Yes, she consumed the jaffa cakes, yes, she wanted to comment and yes, at times she wanted to dance, but her attention was always on the story.  She was not the youngest there, but all ages seemed equally enthralled.

The action centres on a little boy king who is enchanted by what he thinks is the most beautiful sound in the world, and finds friendship with a nightingale until he is seduced by an all-singing, all-dancing mechanical iNightingale, and grows tired of his old friend.

Eventually he realises that something is missing and that clever gadgets are not all they seem.

The set is simple and the puppeteers, Mark Whitaker and Aya Nakamura, are always in view but the way the company presents the tale, highlights the show’s whole message.

Just as the King discovers he doesn’t need gimmicks, this company shows that you don’t need flashy scenery and special effects. All the King needs is a simple but naturally beautiful songbird. All the show needs is the simplicity of conventional puppets and the black and white beauty and skill of shadow puppetry.

The magic comes from the story about love and friendship and the way the puppets come to life in a way that you hardly notice that someone else is dictating their moves. The specially composed music adds to the atmosphere to provide around 50 minutes where you are transported, complete with jaffa cakes, to another world.

V was mesmerised, although not enough to render her completely silent! Her enjoyment of the show was marked by her commentary of the action, although thankfully most of this was close to my ear and not for the benefit of the whole audience!

Running time

About 50 minutes – V was just on the cusp of her restless threshold!

Age range

4+ – this is about right but as younger siblings are often present anyway, I risked taking V who is nearly 3. She was fully engaged with the story but is the sort of child who likes to give a running commentary. I don’t know if this is age-related or whether it will continue as she gets older. If so, a career at News 24 awaits!

For details of tour dates and venues, visit Horse and Bamboo Theatre.

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