The Fourth Wise Man

Review written by Flossie Waite
A Unicorn Production
Unicorn Theatre
For ages 4+
From 30th November – 4th January 2015

An awkward camel, an existential crisis, and an unbothered narrator. It doesn’t sound like a recipe for Christmas theatre success but, despite this and a narrative that never quite sorts itself out, The Fourth Wise Man is a funny, original production with equal parts philosophy and festive cheer.

Married couple Artaban (Philip Arditti) and Samira (Ritu Arya) have settled into a routine – their ballet of the everyday a meaningful display of the brilliant choreography central to this production. Whilst Artaban is technically wise – he devours books – he’s stumped by a pretty big question: Do you ever think there is more to life than this?

The answer can’t be delivered to your front door (though Artaban places orders with the narrator who is as speedy as Amazon Prime). It doesn’t lie in the hobbies and sporting pursuits he tries. But when a huge star appears, the amateur astronomer in Artaban is excited. You should follow it, it’s important, says his incredibly patient and indulging wife. And so begins his journey of self-discovery, picking up a camel with an attitude problem along the way.

The show appeals to different senses of humour – Arditti’s physical comedy is masterful, as he battles with a tent and ends up with a boat on his head. The on stage musician Attab Haddad doubles as a modern day narrator – rather than just reeling off the story, he is also a moody stage manager of sorts. When Artaban asks him a question, he looks up from his script and taps his laptop keyboard to abruptly stop the music; his often underwhelmed delivery serving a dry and quite mature comedic style. Arya is smiley and supportive as Samira, but brings different amusing traits to each of the characters she plays – multiple stall owners, a king, and, of course, a camel (if I say she seems borns to play the role of unfazed  dromedary, I mean it as the highest compliment).

Though the production has a distinctly Middle Eastern feel, the script keeps things pretty universal – as the narrator says at the very beginning, this could happen anytime, anywhere. In keeping with this, the play tactfully skirts around the nativity story, though this does mean that when Artaban is distraught at the end of his journey to find out that he has missed the big event, it’s unclear what that ‘big event’ was.

There are loads of themes and ideas in The Fourth Wise Man – from stuff about materialism and appreciating the things you have to the meaning of life – but the ending just doesn’t tie them altogether. It’s a shame to finish on an underwhelming note, but this shouldn’t detract too much from what is elsewhere a very entertaining show that is trying something different.

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