Theatre Review: Arabian Nights, Hoxton Hall
PUBLISHED: 12:25 21 September 2018
Puppets and a talented cast tell the stories of Ali Baba and Sinbad in a concept-laden overlong adaptation that never quite captures the magic
The intimate auditorium of Hoxton Hall’s gloomily ornate late Victorian theatre is an inspired choice for Iris Theatre’s Arabian Nights.
Director Daniel Winder aims high with an impressive cast morphing between characters in multiple tales including favourites Ali Baba and Sinbad.
While a jaw-dropping array of multi-sized puppets evoke a ghoulish and grotesque theatre of the absurd aesthetic, and themes of greed and violence are powerfully evoked, the concept-laden show never quite captures the magic and romance of the original tales.
At two-and-a-half hours, writer Nessah Muthy certainly has enough time to weave more subtlety into the dialogue.
The writing is best when points-of-view are playfully set up and debunked. Given her talent for storytelling, loyal Sharazad insists on taking the place of her sister to distract the brutal Shah from his mission of decapitating brides.
The tales then segue into each other as a community of royals, merchants, thieves and slaves spring to life.
Pravessh Rana’s Shah has a formidable stage presence and Sharon Singh brings a cool intelligence and integrity to this proto-feminist role, but the exchanges between the two lack fizz.
Parallels drawn between contemporary despots and decapitations are predictable. There’s strong support from Hemi Yeroham who is especially entertaining as a hunchback jester who chokes to death on a fishbone.
Or does he? And versatile Izzy Jones excels as the cunning slave who saves her avaricious boss Ali Baba from the vengeful return of a band of thieves.
The actors take on accents with gusto – Turkish, Arabic, Asian – some convincing, others are odd hybrids – but there is a strong sense of the vast breadth of the region where the tales originated.
Winder’s production is at its best when he keeps the storytelling simple. I preferred lesser known tales like the curse of flatulent Abu Hassan – one for younger audience members given the great relish taken in portraying his problem.
For some the overall design of the puppets will be too scary. Young and old with a low fidget threshold would doubtless appreciate a more rigorous edit.
Arabian Nights runs at Hoxton Hall until Saturday September 13. Click here for more details and tickets.