Monday, 14 August 2017

Review Tales From The Arabian Nights

Tales From The Arabian Nights
Adapted by Farhana Sheikh

Love Is A Many-Storied Thing

Kings, grand viziers, masters and slaves, courtiers, talking animals, royal executioners, auctioneers, princesses, rich merchants, kitchen boys and beggars all inhabit the compendium of stories known as The Arabian Nights.

London Bubble Theatre and writer Farhana Sheikh also conjure them up in what must be one of London's loveliest settings on a clear summer's evening - Greenwich Park with its slopes and hills filled with greenery and birdsong.

This promenade version of the Middle Eastern, Arabic and Asian tales picks out a scattering of the  stories.

We are led through the "sadness and cruelty of  kings", magical happenings and some individual and communal happy endings before we come to the best known story of vizier's daughter Shahrazade who weaves tales to save her life. 

Director Jonathan Petherbridge and designer Yasuko Hasegawa Fujihara keep the design and the props simple with the costumes mixing 18th century European peasant Sunday best and the wide sashes of oriental dress.

In this version, the Shahrazade story is itself framed within and is  part of the story of King Shariya who discovers the infidelity of a favoured wife and vows revenge on women.

The seven-strong cast, some of whom also play instruments, inhabit a range of characters. Among these, there's the princess (Rose-Marie Christian) who finds herself affianced to a goat (Nicholas Goode who is also the piece's composer),  but then it turns out ...

Aha, it's only proper that we leave a Shahrazade cliffhanger and not give everything away in a review.

Suffice to say Russeni Fisher as Khalifa is pulled this way and that, like his own fisherman's net, with tempting magical offers and reversals.

As well as plucking music out of various stringed instrumens, Laurie Jamieson is the slave who tells a story once a year against a stunning twilight backcloth of the Thames with the glimmering lights of gleaming London skyscrapers.

Joyce Henderson is a celtic talking ape and Simon Startin plays several vainglorious monarchs while Leila Ayad plays the beguiling storyteller Shahrazade herself.

It's a performance that starts with a store of copious goodwill. However the promenade element eventually breaks up any fluidity as we took ourselves from location to location.

While the route, positioning of the various grassy stages and lighting had obviously been thought out, the script and staging feels increasingly scrappy and piecemeal. So that the addition of songs and dance does not have the richness and beauty one would expect.

Much of this is also because it's a two-act show of about three hours which should be much shorter and without an interval, especially as it's also marketed as a children's show.

Even if the natural scenery in Greenwich park is stunning, there also needed to be something more in the design to evoke the exotic atmosphere of the orient.

It may be that Sheikh's play with its mercantile allusions and magic would work better entirely in the light and on the flat.
However TLT has to judge from what was presented. The show, although becoming sometimes more and more talky, along with its audience lost energy as it stretched on in the dark.
It's the kind of subject matter which raises great expectations of a magical mix of the literate, raucous and the erotic with mercantile and imperial realities catering with supple humour for both adults and children.

There certainly is a magic in the park surroundings but Tales From The Arabian Nights needs a tighter, more coherent framework to make it a truly spellbinding performance and it's a lower range amber light.  

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