Ali Baba and the forty thieves, the mysterious magic carpet, Sinbad the Sailor – all very familiar tales of a far away land in a far away time. But medieval Persia has officially arrived in Manchester this Christmas as the Library Theatre Company presents an unusual Christmas show as we travel back in time to the Arabian Nights …
King Shahrayer is betrayed by his wife. In an act of vengeance, he vows to kill every virgin girl – after he has married them. The young Shahrazad marries the King to try and stop the killings, and begins to tell him fantastic stories that capture his imagination. But with her life under threat every time the sun comes up, just how long can she tell her tales?
What unfolds is a spellbinding roller-coaster ride of comedy, drama and (mild) horror. An accomplished cast led by the convincing and passionate Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi (Emmerdale) whose cunning to save her life and restore the King’s feelings is as sharp as the sound of the executioners sword hanging over her. Tachia Newell will be an instant favourite with adults and children alike with his gift of perfect comic timing whilst Emilio Doorgasingh makes for a wonderfully abrasive, commanding and vulnerable King.
The fun begins immediately when you enter The Lowry. The alluring scent of incense is fused with the air. Not only does the minimalist set design evoke Eastern life with its arch and tiled floor, but the characters are milling around trying to sell you their wares in a charming style. You don’t have to close your eyes to picture Persia.
Indeed, the design is a highlight of the production. Children will gaze in amazement at the life size puppets of animals that appear and laugh at the various silly costumes on display. There are certainly many arresting images that will surely be a talking point on the way home.
Dominic Cooke’s adaptation of these folk tales combined with Amy Leach’s direction breathes new life and colour into this timeless classic. I had expected a serious dramatisation, and don’t get me wrong, there are some very serious themes present, but I wasn’t expecting the hilarity and wit the script is laced with.
One word of warning if you have very young children, at just shy of two and a half hours, young children may struggle. That said, I was surrounded by children of various ages watching, all of who were completely captivated and frantically comparing notes on their favourite bits during the interval. My attention did wander towards the end as the peril Shahrazad is placed in by the rise of the morning sun and the threat of execution became too repetitive.
Overall, Arabian Nights is an extraordinarily high-quality and entertaining night out. Original, breathlessly exciting and a magical experience for all the family. It is an absolute must-see this Christmas.
The Fiction Stroker gives Arabian Nights five strokes out of five:
Arabian Nights runs from Fri 30 Nov 2012 – Sat 12 Jan 2013. Tickets are available here or from The Lowry Box Office on 0843 208 6010.