(Originally published by What’s on Stage, Dec ’12)
Condensing the book of The Thousand Nights and One Nights, (or Arabian Nights as it’s more widely known) into a two hour production is always going to be a tall order. Thankfully, Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation whips along nicely, offering a light, cheery prelude to the festive season.
Zimmerman doesn’t stray too far from the architecture of the original stories. On discovering his wife’s infidelity, King Shahryar, becomes embittered and vengeful. Intent on punishing all of womankind, he marries a new girl every night, before murdering her the next day. When he marries the daughter of his servant, Scheherezade, his routine comes to a halt. She manages to defer her death by telling a tale which ends on a cliff-hanger. Scheherezade continues this process, delivering stories in quick succession night after night; keeping her husband intrigued and vested enough to prolong her life.
Under Lu Kemp’s direction, the production offers a quick unravelling of stories within stories. The tales are moral anecdotes which reveal and confront the human experience. The fast pace ensures energetic, sprightly performances from all the cast members.Sandy Grierson is most convincing as the ruthless King and Adura Onashile, (who stood in for Ony Uhiara on the first night), offered a commendable performance.
Aside from a somewhat gratuitous break in the wall, Ben Stones’s set is simple; a circular stage, sprinkled with tinkering light bulbs hanging above, becomes the springboard for Scheherezade’s imaginative stories. Set in Baghdad, the first half is comical and at times descends into farce. There’s dance, a burst of Enya’s Orinoco Flow and even a song lamenting the unfortunate effects of eating chickpeas on the digestive system. Silliness pervades.
A spot of magic is a welcome addition to the second half. The final story of Aziz’s lost love is most affecting, for both the King and audience alike. Shahryar is altered, as he declares, “you have lifted a veil from my heart.” What ensues is a colourful explosion of stories.
Arabian Nights offers one night of fun; dipping into the stories, before splashing them across the Tricycle’s stage. Anyone expecting to be immersed in the intricate depths of the stories however, may be disappointed.
– by Amardeep Sohi