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The Emperor and the Nightingale


Neil Duffield’s reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale, ‘The Nightingale’ brings a timeless classic into the twenty-first century for the stage.



The Emperor and the Nightingale

Original by Hans Christian Andersen

by Neil Duffield

  • Neil Duffield’s reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairytale, ‘The Nightingale’ (1844), like his earlier adaptation of Andersen’s The Snow Queen, brings a timeless classic into the twenty-first century.
  • With appeal to family audiences and more, Duffield’s plays are performed regularly by schools and other amateur groups, as well receiving regular professional productions nationwide. Previous productions of this play, include The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster (2002); The Watermill Theatre, Newbury (2003); Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham (2003).
  • Published to coincide with a new production of the play at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick.


In ancient China, the young emperor Wu is kept a virtual prisoner in his palace by his scheming guardian, Li Si. For Wu, the world outside the Forbidden City is a dangerous place. But when he hears Xiao, a young peasant girl, talk of the most beautiful sound on earth – the song of the nightingale – it’s too much to resist.

The two embark on an adventure that will take them across mountaintops and waterfalls, past chattering monkeys and fire-belching dragons to the far reaches of his kingdom.

But Wu has an ulterior motive that could threaten the peace of the kingdom.



“The story, adapted with his customary panache by Neil Duffield, remains loaded with all the essential elements of a child’s fable. The importance of honesty, friendship, love, loyalty and trust. For two hours at least, we are taught that the song of the Nightingale might just be more essential than all of Earth’s other treasures. Without turning all this delicate storytelling into anything resembling more seasonal fare, Joel Sams sails as close as he dares to being a panto villain. There is equally excellent support among the cast of eight actor musicians, whose skills stretch to playing an authentic Chinese stringed instrument, the guzheng.” British Theatre Guide, December 2016

“Set in ancient China, it tells the tale of Emperor Wu (Martin Sarreal) and2000-1 peasant girl Xiao (Sally Cheng) who head off together in search of the nightingale. Their adventure teaches them about the importance of friendship and all about life – the good bits and bad – full of energy, colour and creativity, intertwined with alluring music and lots of fun.” News & Star, December 2016

“Forrest’s direction is typically tight, marshalling an eight-strong cast across a range of roles with a characteristic eye for humour. Johns’ set impressively encompasses Beijing’s Forbidden City as well as a range of rural location1000-1s. Composer Richard Atkinson supplies some beautifully atmospheric songs as well as directing a musically talented cast on a range of Chinese and western instruments. Jimmy Grimes’ puppetry direction gives us a genuinely affecting nightingale, brought to life by the evocative vocals and puppetry skills of Amy Gardyne.” The Stage, December 2016


About the authors

Hans Christian Andersen (Writer)

The fairy stories of Hans Christian Andersen have become so popular among children and adults that they have almost become folk tales, part of the world’s oral tradition of storytelling. The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea, The Nightingale, The Red Shoes, The Little Match Girl, Thumbelina, and The Little Mermaid have been enjoyed everywhere for more than 150 years. Andersen, an only child, was born in the Danish city of Odense in 1805; his mother took in washing and his father, who died when he was 11, was a shoemaker. He went to a local school and worked for a weaver and a tailor before, aged 14, moving to Copenhagen. He wrote his first story in 1828. He produced his first novel in 1835 and later wrote five more. He also wrote plays (but was never thought to be much of a dramatist), poetry, which is still popular in Denmark, travel books and an autobiography. But his lasting fame rests on his 168 fairy tales, from The Tinder Box in 1835 to Urbanus, not published till 1949; The Nightingale was published in 1843 and is said to have been inspired by his unrequited passion for the soprano Jenny Lind, who became known as the ‘Swedish nightingale’. There are now Hans Christian Andersen museums in Odense and Copenhagen, which is also home to the statue of the Little Mermaid.

Neil Duffield (Adapter)

Neil has worked as a full-time professional playwright for almost 35 years and his plays have been staged extensively in theatres throughout Britain and abroad. Recent work includes: The Machine Stops (York Theatre Royal); The Ugly Duckling (Northumberland Theatre Company); The Road to Glory (The Point, Eastleigh); A Christmas Carol (Derby Theatre, Edinburgh Lyceum, Bolton Octagon); The Firebird (Dundee Rep); Dancing in My Dreams (Oxfordshire Theatre Company); The Minotaur and Leopard (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster). His play The Lost Warrior (commissioned by the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster) won the Arts Council England Children’s Award in 2006 for work that displays excellence, inspiration and innovation in children’s theatre. Neil lives in Bolton with his partner, Eileen Murphy, and loves to spend as much time as possible with their four young grandchildren, Toby, Gabriel, Clyde and Beatrice.









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