Pros: A few moments of physical comedy will have your children in stitches. Excellent composition and live musical performance with clever set design.
Cons: Never quite manages to evoke or maintain the audience excitement that such a momentous journey should.
“The fourth wise man?” I hear you ask dubiously. Yes, legend has it there was a fourth. His name was Artaban and his charitable nature – stopping to help a dying man en route – delayed his journey to Bethlehem and ultimately cost him his place in the greatest story ever told. You try to do the right thing……Well, in this family friendly adaptation at the Unicorn Theatre Artaban is delayed, not by a dying man, but by that familiar Christmas scene: panicked last minute present shopping amid rapidly closing stalls, and a reluctant camel.
The fourth wise man in this story is clearly a woman, as it is very apparent that it is Artaban’s wife Samira (Ritu Arya) who is in possession of the worldly wisdom. While Artaban (Philip Arditti) suffers a midlife crisis, looking for greater meaning in his life by filling it with a series of unsuccessful hobbies, Samira happily potters about being terribly patient and supportive, sagely musing that ‘sometimes it’s not a good idea to ask for too much, sometimes it’s better to be happy with what you have’. An admirable sentiment, particularly at this time of year.
The production finds its greatest strength in its moments of slapstick comedy – catnip to children – and its use of different media to keep the young audience engaged. The musical accompaniment – a combination of live performance on an Oud and pre recorded instrumentals controlled by the musician, Attab Haddad – is particularly good. It gently transports us to the unspecified Middle Eastern setting and compliments the on-stage action, adding plodding comedy to the rude boy-inspired camel’s mooching movements and tinkling lullabies to the twinkling evening scenes. In addition, the set is simple yet clever – a lesson in compact living from which any Londoner residing in one of the capital’s famously ‘spacious’ studio flats could learn a thing or two from.
Despite these stronger individual features, the production fails to ever quite come together to impart the feeling of excitement that this journey should evoke. The children in the audience take odd opportunities to join in, pantomime style, but frustratingly the show fails to capitalize on this potential well of energy and enthusiasm by making only one or two tentative attempts at audience interaction. Moreover, the narrative is missing any moments of real surprise or changes in pace that would work to hold their attention – particularly for the younger children in the audience, who I am sure were only half able to follow the script itself. Overall, The Fourth Wise Man has some good component parts, but they struggle to come together to produce the necessary holiday sparkle.
Author: Purni Morell
Director: Lee Lyford
Composer: Attab Haddad
Music produced and recorded by: Lee Sparey
Booking until: 4 January 2015
Box Office: 020 7645 0560
Booking link: https://www.unicorntheatre. com/