Arabian Nights

Review by Flossie Waite
Presented by Story Pocket Theatre in association with Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Southbank Centre
Touring nationally until 11th July
For ages 5-10

Thank goodness divorce is not the taboo it once was; no longer do jilted lovers like Scheherezade  need to fear execution in favour of a new bride. That said, her cunning plan to delay death – telling her husband, the King, wonderful stories each night – left the world with tales beloved by generations, and who can say that of the new fad for ‘Divorce Parties’? The dark set-up for Story Pocket Theatre’s production is matched by tales of thieves, laziness and a corpse, but it’s far more slapstick than scary.

Scheherezade apparently told her murderous spouse 1,001 stories, but Arabian Nights picks just three: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, The Little Beggar, and Aladdin. Over hundreds of years, all of these stories have been adapted and changed so it’s hard to tell where they all began, but Story Pocket Theatre’s renditions seem closer to older versions than you might expect. Aladdin, for instance, is actually a very lazy boy who lucks out and finds two genies, rather than the magic carpet flying hunk Disney would have you expect.

Three performers – William Forde, Yasmin Goodwin, and Luke Pitman – tackle the stories, with only a  versatile, turret-looking piece of set and the odd bit of costume to assist them. The action begins with a storyteller, but all three actors take it in turns switching skilfully between narrator and various characters, showing off a range of funny accents and movement traits between them. While this is an intense production for each performer, no one works harder than Pitman, who brings a Jim-Carrey-esque energy to each scene. With more facial expressions than Scheherezade had stories, he brings humour to everything, from imitating a dumb donkey to playing a just-stabbed thief, pulling out his intestines and using them as a skipping rope (it works, trust me).

Lots of children’s shows have songs in them when they haven’t really earned their place, and while this seems true of the first tune in Arabian Nights, the second – a ditty in a court about the death of a beggar – brings a lot of humour to a narrative that otherwise might be a bit of an odd inclusion in this play for young audiences. Whilst the production’s ending is kind of nice, it also kind of suggests Scheherezade has Stockholm Syndrome, but no matter – whilst slightly longer than your average play for children, Arabian Nights flies by!

Image by Rachel Lowndes

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