Arabian Nights is a tale of tales. Directed by Beverly Anthony, this production sees the gifted and cunning Sharahzad attempt to use her powers of storytelling to cure the King, her husband, of his betrayed and embittered heart. It’s a good job she can spin a good yarn, the moment he gets bored of her imagination he will condemn her to death and she will meet the same sticky end as his previous wives.
Each night, an hour before dawn, Sharahzad’s sister Dinarzad requests another story from her sister in hope that her words will wipe the thought of the queen’s execution from his mind. The three of them settle down for a story and as the tales unravel on stage the king becomes increasingly enthralled by these fictional worlds. Unfortunately I did not fall under the same spell…
Beginning each of her tales with a call to the audience to ‘Listen…’ Jeannie Scott is engaging as Sharahzad, the young bride. Her narrative role is then passed on to the story characters themselves and laughter rattled around the theatre during a number of truly comedic moments. Of particular note are the fabulous facial expressions and energy of Tori Hope as the Little Beggar and then later as one of two very envious sisters. Matthew Huntbach also gives strong performances in a number of parts; his canine ability being unnervingly realistic! However, a combination of a wordy script and a number of somewhat mismatched accents, leads to frequent confusing exchanges and points of lost narration. Dominic Cook’s adaptation could have perhaps focused less on telling the stories themselves as the physical and visual elements of the performances were often the most enjoyable to watch.
The story of the marooned sailor, Es-Sindibad, is beautifully illustrated through puppetry. The graceful presence of a great bird swooping through the intimate performance space is captivating and contrasts with a miniature puppet, who narrates this scene whilst being skilfully engineered by John Anthony and Michelle Smith. These visually exciting elements are highlighted through the flawless technical work of Ben Walker (lighting) and Gareth Morris (sound). The myriad of tales also benefits from a somewhat uniformed yet elaborate style of costume, created by Doreen Sheard and her team, which clearly defines each tale from the next.
A belated pantomime (of sorts), this production is unique in its heavy use of ingenious technical elements which create a visual treat for any audience member. There are plenty of comedic moments, the humour of which often appeared to originate in the evident familiarity between the audience members and performers. However despite the clever use of props and physical movement, the performance did run for longer than your average pantomime romp. At one point Sharahzad declares that she has told a total of 817 stories to the King and ultimately, at times, I felt as though I had sat through every single one.
All images credited to Mark James
Arabian Nights runs at The Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 19th January 2013. Go to www.lacemarkettheatre.co.uk for ticketing information.