I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic
Thanks to Husband, yesterday I saw the Library Theatre Co’s production of Arabian Nights, and I can’t recommend highly enough that anyone with the chance to do so gets along before it closes on January 12th.
Using a small but tremendously talented cast and some wonderful sets, Arabian Nights manages to be that rare thing, a production which genuinely appeals to adults and children. The fast-paced action of the stories, with fights, chases, humans transformed into dogs and acrobatic tricks kept the smaller members of the audience happy. Some truly base fart gags and highly creative insults (“a face like a bottle of warts”) appealed to young adults, whilst the genuine tension of the plot, the darkness and sadness of both some of the stories and the over-arching Scheherazade narrative and the lyrical language gave it a grown-up edge (some sinuous dance and impressive abs from Jo Mousley probably helped to keep the dads happy too).
Anyone, meanwhile, could be impressed by the inventive sets and costumes – grand Middle-Eastern arches and decorations framing the whole, whilst the clever use of cast members as mountains, dragons, birds and Ali Baba’s ‘open sesame’ gates meant that time wasn’t wasted on scene changes. Playing to the stories’ strengths as fabulous, unreal creations meant that with dry ice, incense, beautiful costumes and clever puppets a real sense of atmosphere and wonder could be generated without any feeling that a forced attempt at realism was going on.
Greatest credit, however, must go to the incredible energy and ability of the cast. Each member must have gone through innumerable costume changes, as well as shifting between roles and accents, during a gruelling two-and-a-half hours of what was often a highly physical play. Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi, for instance, spent most of the production as a courageous and determined but appropriately vulnerable Scheherazade, but also did turns as an imperious speaking bird and a witty chief of police with a broad Lancs accent. Tachia Newall also stood out for the sheer energy of his performances as everything from a magic dog to a beggar-boy having a fish-done pulled, tug-of-war-like, from his throat.
Finally, recognition has to be given to the production’s respect for the roots of the stories it was telling. References to Persia, India and Baghdad peppered the stories, and names like Chosroes (Khosrau, a pre-Islamic king of Persia) and Harun al-Rashid (one of the most famous of the Abbasid Caliphs) shone out of the script. The closing sequence – a tale of how Scheherazade’s stories were written down to form the book – referenced the Arabic name, الف ليلة و ليلة /Alf Layla wa Layla, and pages of the Arabic text fluttered down from the ceiling.
The Library Theatre’s trailer for the production is here:
And there’s a collection of press reviews here.