Pros: Chirine El Ansari is as seductive and resourceful as the wily women in her narrative. And the tales themselves are a joy to witness.
Cons: No downsides to this show though the audience do have to be willing to absorb the stories and relax into the ambience.
One Thousand And One Nights is a captivating one-woman show by performance storyteller Chirine El Ansari. Performed at the buzzy Rich Mix arts centre in Shoreditch, El Ansary gave just that, a rich mix of the most famous and magical folk tales from the Arab world and beyond.
The story that frames the tales is beguiling. A prince, warped from the betrayal of his unfaithful wife (summarily put to death) applies a novel way of preserving the pureness of marital union. He marries and enjoys a new wife each night only to have her executed the next morning, before she has the chance to wander – so much for the saying, ‘love like you’ve never been hurt’! One beautiful virgin is different from all the rest – the brilliant and resourceful Scheherazade, whose storytelling and impeccably timed cliff-hangers, impels the prince to keep her alive night after night, so he can hear the continuation of the story.
It was nice to see the tales performed intimately in a decent sized auditorium with a simple but striking visual set up. Yellow, red and orange sheets of cloth drape the black stage, so when El Ansari emerges, dressed in simple black clothing and bare feet, she has a mystical yet comforting and relaxed presence. From the framing narrative, we are introduced to a number of stories within stories that produce a pleasing, cascading effect. To give you a sense of this, we have El Ansaris telling us about Scheherazade, who tells us the tale of Ali Shar, who squanders his wealth, and falls in love with a beautiful slave girl named Zumurrud. Zumurrud is kidnapped by an old man, then by one of the forty thieves, but escapes, becomes a ruler herself, and enacts justice against those who have harmed her. By the interval, the audience were hankering as much as the murderous prince to hear Scheherazade continue telling her tale.
El Ansari exercises expert control over the tales, dropping in modern references for clarity and humour. We leave off one fascinating tale for another, such as one about two demons on either side of the world, whose amorous play with mortals provides an explanation of the ways humans surrender to desire and love. All the characters are dealt with thoroughly, and you come away feeling acquainted with each of them. Throughout El Ansari slips in and out of speaking her native Egyptian Arabic, which adds an authentic flavour to the tales, and enhances her already very natural style. Her soft vocal tones and the many repetitions brought forth a most welcomed meditative quality to the evening.
This is the first event I’ve attended by producer Crick Crack Club and they have clearly built up quite a following through their many years of supporting performance artists of myths, epics and fairy tales. It was nice to be among an appreciating audience who were enjoying the performance as much as I was. There’s a fine line between pleasure and punishment when you’re at the mercy of a single performer for a two-hour show. But with tales as sumptuous as those in One Thousand And One Nights, along with being in the very capable hands of a seasoned storyteller, this is definitely a show to take a chance on if it’s not something you would normally see.
Performed by: Chirine El Ansary
Producer: Crick Crack Club
Booking Until: This show was a one-off performance.