Review: Arabian Nights

4 star rating
Iris Theatre make an impressive foray out of their usual Covent Garden habitat, with a cast of puppets outnumbering actors to deliver an appealingly fun evening's entertainment.
Arabian Nights at Hoxton Hall

Image: Hoxton Hall


Theatre: Hoxton Hall

Closes here: Saturday 13 October 2018

Author:
Nessah Muthy

Composer:
Sonum Batra

Director:
Daniel Winder

Cast:

King Shahryar - Pravesssh Rana

Vizier Khalid - Hemi Yeroham

Wife, Musician - Maya Britto

Sharazad - Sharon Singh

Dunzayad - Izzy Jones

A Kalandar, Executioner - Ikky Elyas


Synopsis


The Arabian Nights is a timeless library of fantastical stories, woven into a rich, open tapestry.


It is a celebration of the artistic and cultural history of both Islam and the wider ancient world, full of timeless heroes and villains.


Ali Baba, Ala'ad-Din and Sinbad the Sailor swarm from its pages, among thousands of other legends.


Join Iris Theatre at the grandest wedding of the year.


Opulent and colourful and filled to the brim with music, magic and dance.


The smell of firecrackers fills the air, but underneath the festivities lies the strong scent of decay.


The groom, King Shahryar is a tyrant and every single night he marries a new girl and every single morning he has her killed.


The cycle of violence has continued for years, but is to be brought to an end in the unlikeliest of ways and by the bravest of women.


For with the executioner's sword hanging over her neck, Sharazad starts to tell stories and with every fabulous tale she stretches out the thread of her life a little further, into an unknowable tapestry of the future.


Background


In a new adaptation of the Arabian Nights by Nessah Muthy (Heroine, The Host), directed by Daniel Winder and designed by Amber Scarlett, Hoxton Hall becomes Shahrayar's palace this autumn.


Featuring a multitude of fantastic puppets designed by Jonny Dixon alongisde brand new music, Sharazad's comic, tragic and earthy stories are brought to life at an evening of storytelling to melt the hardest of tyrant's hearts.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Wednesday 19 September 2018
Review star rating image

The Arabian Nights (originally known as the One Thousand and One Nights) is a collection of stories, brought to life in this version by Iris Theatre with a small ensemble of actors and a larger (and varied) cast of puppets.


Hoxton Hall is suitably transformed here into a palace where a cruel king is bent on taking revenge on womankind.


Every night he marries a different virgin and then has her killed the next morning so that she can't betray him by being unfaithful with another man.


That is the overarching story in a series of stories, many of which may well be familiar, with characters like Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba fetching-up during the evening.


Iris Theatre are probably best known for their summer promenade shows performed in the lovely gardens and fine interior of St. Paul's - the Actors' Church - in Covent Garden.


In Arabian Nights they make an impressive foray out of their usual comfort zone and into the charmingly delightful Hoxton Hall, a Victorian music hall which on its own more than merits a visit to this show.


Amber Scarlett's lovingly-designed setting for the stories embodies the geometric patterns of Islamic building design, and flows over the high stage of Hoxton Hall and into the seating area below where a traditional water feature resides.


With steps between the two main acting areas, there's plenty of scope for locational variety as the tales unfold.

Some of the puppets in Arabian Nights at Hoxton Hall

Some of the cast and puppets in Arabian Nights - photo courtesy Ali Wright


Many productions these days incorporate puppetry and there's plenty of fun to be had in Arabian Nights thanks to a puppet cast which significantly outnumbers the human ensemble of just 6, who not only have to double-up in numerous roles but also have to manipulate their puppet counterparts, which they achieve with commendable aplomb.


Jonny Dixon's splendid troop of puppets are varied in size and stature, ranging from the merely petite to the overwhelmingly large.


And the living cast also don masks as required to introduce more life-size characters.


Maddy Ross-Mason provides some wonderfully-crafted and evocative costumes - especially for the king and the principal female characters, with detailed embroidery that highlights the intricacy of Islamic dress.


Daniel Winder's meticulously cohesive production rises effortlessly to the considerable challenge of bringing to life so many characters, even managing to incorporate an olfactory element into the creative mix.


And Nessah Muthy's selection of stories - from the overwhelming menu of options the original included - offsets the most popular yarns with less well-known offerings whilst preserving the framing narrative that establishes it as amply relevant in our modern era.


In the latter stages, though, there's a slight sense of a surfeit of tales, drawing-out proceedings.


Still, such is the nature of the piece, I suppose, since the overriding factor here is that Sharon Singh's Sharazad is required to over-egg her storytelling in order to save her skin.


It's also a fairly safe selection of tales, but that hardly matters because the hallmark of this production is the admirably detailed creative work that amply delivers an appealingly fun evening's entertainment.



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