As I walked into the Lyceum Theatre, I was instantly met with a warm Christmas glow. Touches had been added to the already beautiful theatre including large golden, glittering stars hanging from the ceiling. The set stood proud in red, green and gold whilst tinkering music set the scene. The children around me sat in quiet anticipation.
The Arabian Nights is a well deserved classic, with numerous adaptations and known by many names. Suhayla El-Bushra’s version adds a modern spin to the Middle-Eastern folk tales. Using powerful storytelling tools and a healthy dose of silliness and toilet humour, it successfully captivated our smaller patrons.
Each scene contains an effective theatrical device to capture our imagination. The production uses shadow projections to discover where our missing socks go, a golden treasure trove open-sesames before our eyes and the ocean fills the stage for a character to sail on. Live music is played by cast members including a violin, accordion and even kazoos, adding another magical element to the piece. The play’s designer, Francis O’Connor, created an impressive foreign landscape bursting with colour and stunningly intricate costumes. Spell binding puppets appear several times throughout; a golden falcon, a sparkling whale and even a couple of flatulent stray dogs made by Simon Auton.
The small cast of ten manage to do the job of a team must larger and make it look effortless and joyful. In particular Nebli Basani, Brian James O’Sullivan, Humera Syed and Taryam Boyd had magnificent comedy chops and great shapeshifting ability.
All the stories bleed into each other, blurring the barriers of beginnings and ends as the viewer gets lost in a maze of tales. Stories within stories and a merging of reality with fantasy is expertly handled. There are moments of clarity and wisdom, like when the Sultan exclaims ‘stories are the lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better.’ His relationship with his daughter is told in both fable form and bleak truth, urging the audience to see the underlying truths of the other wondrous tales. All loose ends are delicately tied together to make a satisfying ending.
Although there is some audience participation, it was sparse. With the complicated changing of worlds and narratives along with the fast paced dialogue the younger viewers did become restless in moments. Along with the two-hour running time, it was quite demanding on younger ages. With that being said, moments of the play were truly magically and the groups I saw seemed happy and clapping by the end. However, I would still recommend a six and over age range.
The Arabian Nights, is a delightful family night out. It warms you up and fills you with holiday cheer just in time for Christmas.
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- The Arabian Nights by Suhayla El-Bushra (The Royal Lyceum Theatre) - December 8, 2017