Watermill - The Emperor & the Nightingale
28th November 2003 to 10th January 2004.
From the Newbury Weekly News.
A tale well told
The Emperor And The Nightingale, at the Watermill, until January 10
Bagnor has a brat pack for Christmas, headed by one of the highest order, the arrogant young Chinese emperor who will have it all.
Above all, he wants the nightingale, because he's been told it's the most precious thing on Earth. But hey, this guy's been shut up inside the Forbidden City all his life, in the care of the devious Li Si who has ambitions of his own. What does he know of life?
In a land ruled by tiger and dragon kings, who do you trust?
The fighting Tiger King or the cultured Dragon King who appreciates the finer things in life? After the Tiger King has won in combat, he is poisoned and thanks to the machinations of Li Si, fingers point to the Dragon King, exiled in the far-off mountains.
So Young Wu, wet behind the ears, rules the land. Li Si who for all the world resembles a whirling dervish, can now move ahead with his dastardly plan.
It takes the delightfully worldly-wise second parasol carrier, Xiao, who comes down from those same mountains to set off a series of events which opens the eyes of the emperor and eventually puts him back in touch with his people. Xiao has a secret that even she doesn't know.
Neil Duffield's reworking of the Hans Christian Andersen tale is a dream for any designer and the Watermill has landed a dream of a designer in Philip Witcomb.
He's used sumptuous silks, gold symbols, pagodas, paper lanterns, snow and cherry blossom to conjure up some pure oriental magic.
Half-masks remind you that this is actually a troupe of actor/musicians who are telling a story.
Inspired, too, to portray the nightingale, renowned for its heavenly song, with an opera singer who has just finished her first season at Glyndebourne - gliding effortlessly in her kimono and hair bedecked with blossom, as the drab little bird rests upon her arm.
This is a tale well told by an energetic young company and the kids will love it - especially the mist-shrouded dance of a writhing dragon.
On our way out we rubbed shoulders with Paul Kissaun, who wrote the music for The Emperor and The Nightingale.
And don't you just hate it when this happens?
"Remember," I said to young Tom, "he was the bear in last year's Firebird?"
"Wolf, actually," the 'bear' snarled.
"...and you could get eaten for that."
It's always good fun at the Watermill.
From the Sunday Times.
There is a welcome new seriousness in some of the seasonal shows, but I defy anyone not to be touched and delighted by Fiona Lairds enchanting production, which fits perfectly into this jewel box of a theatre. Neil Duffields script and Paul Kissauns music are a perfect match, while Philip Witcombs design exploits the fantastical chinoiserie. None of this would work, though, if there were not a truth to be told. Louise Claytons Xiao, leaves the mountains for the Forbidden City, Peter Caulfields callow Emperor Wu finds maturity by travelling in the opposite direction. This is very much an ensemble piece, but Mark Meadows a mean hand on keyboards is especially good as the malicious Mandarin. Good stuff.
Greta Hewison, 11, says: So many childrens shows can be patronising, but the Watermill knows how to create something magical that draws everybody in.
Vita Hewison, 14, says: A really enjoyable family show, performed by an excellent cast with great music. They just know how to tell a story.
And from The Times.
The dragon is not the only spectacular feature of Fiona Lairds
in-the-round production. Peacock feathers and curious birds decorate the
frieze around the central pavilion, designed by Philip Witcomb, with green
pillars and red lanterns. The glittering costumes are also his, Wu in
scarlet and gold, Xiao in rainbow stripes.