By Mary Zimmerman
Arabian Nights – the very name conjures images of exotic spice laden markets, star strewn skies, minarets and date palms. This stage adaptation is based on the collection of stories known as One Thousand and One Nights. These lavish and captivating tales from the Far East are an established part of our world heritage, mixing fables and folklore from India, Persia, Syria, Arabia and Egypt. Over centuries they have passed easily into our own cultural sphere, including as they do the stories of Ali Baba, Sinbad and Aladdin. These three alone have featured in children’s books, films, television and theatre since the nineteenth century.
In this hugely popular adaptation by Mary Zimmerman, the root story is the same as in the original collection. The selfish King Shahyrar, betrayed by his first wife, decides no woman can ever be trusted. For years he takes a new wife each night and kills her in the morning. This continues until he marries the infinitely wily and impossibly entertaining Scheherazade, who determines to preserve her own life by telling the king a selection of fantastical and magical stories, each of which remains unfinished as dawn arises. In this way she succeeds in staying alive for 1001 nights until….but that would spoil the end!
Using an ensemble of 15 actors to play all the parts and a selection of magic carpets to play all the sets, Arabian Nights blends music, dance, soundscapes, physical theatre, clowning and mime in the entertaining pursuit of good old story telling. This is pure theatre: visually enchanting and both funny and moving by turns. Zimmerman offers a wonderful blend of the lesser-known tales from Arabian Nights with the recurring theme of how the magic of storytelling holds the power to change people. The tales are cleverly woven so that some are part of other stories, some overlap each other and some start and end while others never end.
“If you want theatre at its most unpretentiously poetic, most fetchingly stylish, as humane as it is elegant, I commend to you the Arabian Nights.”
New York Magazine
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