The Nightingale and the Rose is reminiscent of a fairy tale, but it is far from a bedtime story for children. This adaption of one of Oscar Wilde’s short stories is dark, enthralling and raises questions about love and sacrifice. Wilde’s story focuses on a student who is deeply in love, however the object of his affections will not dance with him unless he is able to present her with a red rose. A Nightingale overhears this and endeavours to help, she visits all the rose-trees in the garden but discovers the only way to make this possible is to sacrifice herself.
This tale was brought to life in the Burton Taylor with the use of some brilliant and moving physical theatre. A short play, coming in at only half an hour, this performance managed to maintain a high level of intensity which captivated the audience. The Nightingale and the Rose ultimately has a tragic ending, as the student is still rejected by his love in favour of a man who has bought her jewels: we see that the Nightingales sacrifice was futile as the student denounces love and returns to his books.
The story was guided by three Crows (Meg Harrington, Angus Forbes and Amelia Coen) who were the stand out performers of the show and provided a perfect juxtaposition to the innocence of the Nightingale. Even as the audience arrived at their seats, the three Crows were on stage, in various states of despair and muttering to themselves, they were wonderfully unnerving. This continued through out the play, with every jerking movement and shrill cackle, the audience were chilled by the Crow’s ominous presence.
A short play, coming in at only half an hour, this performance managed to maintain a high level of intensity which captivated the audience.
The three actors who took on the Nightingale (Anousha Al-Masud, Olivia White and Jeevan Ravindran) did an excellent job in bringing out the almost ethereal nature of this character and the moments when they broke into gentle song were quite beautiful. However, I did wonder whether it was necessary to have split this role into three parts. Considering the length of this production I thought it might have been more effective for the Nightingale to be one role; this would have allowed for a greater identification with the character and perhaps made its sacrifice more poignant. Similarly, although Lara Marks did a great job playing the Daughter and the Oak Tree; I did not think the choice to have this actress play both characters was coherent. The Daughter represented the futility of the Nightingales sacrifice, whilst the Oak Tree loves the Nightingale and is devastated on its death and so the choice to have one actress play both was not one that made sense.
The costumes of both the Nightingales and the Crows served to further emphasis the contrast between these two forces and both were excellent. The Crows make up was ghastly but you could not look away. The Nightingales white gowns gave the heavenly impression that they were floating around the stage. Unfortunately, not all the design elements of the production were so well thought out; the costume for the Oak Tree in particular was disappointing, Marks appeared to be wearing a sack that you might get potatoes in and it did not convey the majesty of the Oak Tree. The situation was similar with the set design; there were some brilliant elements, I thought the bench of books which seemed to prop up the student was a wonderful idea and the paper cranes hanging from the ceiling were a delicate but effective touch. However, there was little sense that we were even in a garden, bare some limply draped vines and I think a lot more could have been done with the set.
The Nightingale and the Rose provides a short but poignant story. Whilst there were some shortcomings with this production, it was nevertheless an admirable attempt to inject one of Wilde’s lesser known short stories with emotion through the use of physical theatre.