Transport yourself to the exotic east with enchanting tales and parables
A review by Onyeka-Michelle Akpata
Last week I attended the Arabian Nights Theatre production screening held at Hoxton Hall and I had fabulous time! It was great to be transported to the exotic East with the use of enchanting storytelling, puppetry and great theatre backdrops. Nessah Muthy’s Arabian Nights adaption selects highlights from original play ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, Arabic translation Alf laylah wa laylah.
The stories chosen include Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, The Hunchback’s Tale and Ala’ad-Din amongst other legendary stories. Each story has a lesson to communicate to the audience, such as the problems that can arise if one does not tell the truth. This is done in a unique way, featuring a great ensemble of casts, characters and puppetry creatures.
The play depicts the exploration of both artistic and cultural references to Islam as well as the ancient world of the Middle East. Music within the play draws inspiration from Arabic history, also making use of traditional instruments.
Arabian Nights has several different motifs running through the production. One of these includes the strong sisterly bond between the characters Shahrazad and Dunzayad which has been strengthen through their shared life hardships. Shahrazad makes a promise to their late mother that she will always take care of her little sister Dunzayad. A vow she is happy to keep even if it means endangering her own life.
Shahrazad uses her great talent of storytelling to comfort her sister and keep them both upbeat during their lives as servants, helping them escape their bleak reality with their imagination. Dunzayad later catches the eye of King Shahryar, who he declares he will marry without her explicit consent, however Shahrazad uses her quick wittedness to obstruct such plans and instead volunteers herself.
Another theme that has strong undercurrents throughout the production is the theme of misogyny. The sisters inhabit a patriarchal society that upholds the notion that a man has more authority than a woman. You see this clearly expressed in King Shahryar’s blasé egotistical actions against women, as well as his tyrant dictatorship of the land. Every night prowls the land looking for his next bride and every morning he has her executed. This cycle of violence against the womankind has been unrelenting for many years.
Shahrazad is however able through her deeply expressive storytelling to thaw away at the Kings’ icy exterior and save the kingdom. It also depicts the theme of forgiveness and redemption which you are able to witness as the character of the King evolves throughout the play from tyrant to lover. The fragility of male masculinity is also explored within the play as you learn that the reasons for the Kings destructive actions against the Kingdom is due to having his ego slighted and being left heartbroken by the actions of a former lover.
One of the first things you notice as the audience is the beautiful scenery as well as traditional Arabian clothing the characters are dressed in. The authentic theatre’s production set design helps to set the scene of the Middle East climate and atmosphere well, and the effective use of lighting of soft deep colourful hues also aids Iris Theatre’s pursuit of bringing the play to life.
The use of smell is a further technique used to help heighten the sensory imagery for the audience. Real incenses are placed on the stage for certain scenes and the smell drifts around the theatre helping to build the ambience further. The play at times also gives the audience opportunities to interact with characters and scenes creating a thoroughly immersive experience.
Arabian Nights was a timeless showcase of traditional stories, woven into an opulent, colourful, cultural and captivating tapestry. A theatre production definitely not to be missed! If you are in the area between now and the 13th October, make sure to pop down one evening and don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience the magic!