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Arabian Nights, Blue Elephant Theatre – Review

Directed by Jennifer Rose Lee

Pros: This show is sure to put a smile on your face. It’s physical comedy at its most physical and comedic.

Cons: The set and costumes aren’t particularly inspiring. This show is contemporary in its interpretation of Arabian Nights, so the scenery and wardrobe didn’t need to be so traditional.

Our Verdict: Well conceived, genuinely humourous, and executed with confidence and energy.

Courtesy of Blue Elephant Theatre

Arabian Nights was amusing from the moment it started. The cast of five entered the brightly coloured Arabian tent wearing big smiles. Arms by their sides, with open palms, they stood and addressed the audience directly. They started to tell a story. Much like a parent reading a storybook to their child, the actors used voices, movement, and sounds to become the characters in order to bring the story to life.

The story went as follows. The King (George Clarke) discovered his wife’s infidelities and had her executed. Scarred and angry, he believed all women were the same, and he married virgin after virgin executing each of them before they had a chance to dishonor him. Scheherazade (Kate Millest), or Shaz as people called her, was to be the King’s next wife/victim. On the night of their marriage Shaz began to tell the King a story, believing if she enticed him enough to want to hear more stories, she could delay her execution. To her surprise, it worked for one thousand and one nights.

Similarly this company of performers enticed the audience through their humour, clever characterizations, and storytelling to want to hear more. Of the thousand plus to choose from, the actors performed five fables during the show. There were no lessons to be learnt from these stories, or if there were they were quite secondary to the characters and the comedy. However, the humour never felt contrived, and the cast didn’t play for laughs, but were genuinely funny.

This modern adaptation has been written, and is performed for the audience’s pleasure. The actors face forward the entire show. Even interactions between two characters are performed towards the audience, rather than between each other. This allowed the audience to see and hear everything; expressions, actions, words. Furthermore, the characters appeared two dimensional, like the pages of a storybook. And this enhanced the fantasy and ridiculousness of these tales.

Impossible as it seems, each of the five performers stole the show. Collectively they played more than 40 different characters, many of which were not human. There was no weak link in this ensemble. George Clarke, Helen Foster, Suzie Grimsdick, Kate Millest and James Weal are fantastic character actors. Their accents were so convincing, I actually thought Helen Foster might have been Australian. Every part of their bodies became these characters. James Weal was a monkey, crab and trout from head to toe. And the princess in the ebony horse tale never stopped wiggling. It was hilarious.

There are also some choice sound effects, and live music from George McKenzie-Lowe, as well as simple but effective lighting from Kitty Edgar which really compliment the storytelling. Like the chime you hear to signify ‘turn the page’, the lighting in the show would switch letting the audience distinguish the stories. This worked particularly well in the telling of the last fable, about Sinbad and the giant bird. The context kept switching between Shaz telling the King the story, and the story being enacted. These transitions, with the help of lighting and sound, were seamless and cleverly performed.

There are one thousand and one reasons to go and see Arabian Nights, but really you only need one. It is very funny.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Arabian Nights runs at Blue Elephant Theatre until 14th December 2013 Box Office: 020 7701 0100 or book online at http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk

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