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The Nightingale and the Rose is presented as part of Anywhere Theatre Festival
Venue: The Labyrinth, Brisbane Powerhouse
Duration: 60 minutes

“What is the heart of a bird compared to that of a man?” asks Oscar Wilde’s parable, The Nightingale and the Rose.

“There is no red rose in all my garden,” laments the Student. “If I have a red rose, my love will dance with me all night till dawn at the prince’s ball.”

The heart of a man is explored through filmed scenes between the lovelorn university student and his philosophy tutors. Love and sacrifice are discussed in a room overlooking the garden.

The Nightingale hears him and ponders the mystery of love: more precious than emeralds, it cannot be bought for gold. “Every night, I sing of love: what is joy to me, to him is pain.”

It is winter. The only red rose in the garden must be built of music by moonlight and stained with the nightingale’s blood.

The nightingale’s sacrifice for love is set in a garden depicted through Victorian shadow puppetry and narrated through music and silent movie captions.

Jennifer Bismire’s production is well-conceived, but the staging at the Powerhouse’s labyrinth courtyard does not fully work.

From audience left to right, the garden scenes occur on a screen for silent-film style captions and three small screens at standing height for the shadow puppetry. Next, the student’s story is depicted on two shadow puppetry screens set underneath the film screen.

The audience needs to be alert across the entire length of the stage. When captivated by shadow puppetry, it was easy to miss captions telling of the nightingale’s quest to find a red rose.

While the film screen was placed at a good height, the shadow puppet screens underneath were too low. Could people in the back rows see? Obliged to kneel or crouch, the puppeteers’ limited range of movement meant some unwanted shadows partially blocking out the puppets.

Technical issues aside, the concept of creating separate worlds to explore the hearts of man and bird, of love and sacrifice works well.

There were exquisite moments of shadow puppetry heightened by the nightingale’s gift of song richly expressed through vocals (Helen Stephens) and instruments as varied as flute, cello, piano and viola (Richard Grantham and Caitlin Marie Adie).

Wilde’s philosophical debate on love, life and death works well in the filmed sequences between the philosophy tutors, John Grey and Michael Croome. The student, Tim Gollan, proves to be as shallow as the lady he admires, but does not convince as the nightingale’s inspiration, the true lover. Should he?

The nightingale pressed all night against a thorn and sang of a love that is perfected by death to create a blood-red rose – her gift to a true Lover. The spurned and disappointed philosophy student decides love is unpractical, and “in this age, to be practical is everything”. He opens a dusty book and begins to read.

Performance seen: 10 May 2013
Review: Shirley Way

Directors: Jennifer Bismire, with Richard Grantham (music), Belinda McCulloch (film), Imogen Titmarsh (technical).
Puppetry Cast: Caitlin Marie Adie, Emily Bruce, Perie Essex, Eloise Maree, Lauren Neilson, Helen Stephens, Sami Van Barneveld
Film Cast: John Grey, Michael Croome, Tim Gollan
Production team led by Jennifer Bismire

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