Theatre at Christmas brings the usual of array of pantomimes, festive musicals and warm and fuzzy revivals of plays like A Christmas Carol, but if you want to enjoy a family show with creativity and originality and without the fear of Xmas songs being sung at you, then look no further than Arabian Nights produced by the Library Theatre company at the Lowry.
Adapted from the world famous folk tales, Arabian Nights tells the story of Shahrazad, a beautiful young woman who likes nothing better than to read and tell stories. The king of the town, after being burned by love has changed in to a dark and vengeful man who’s actions are leaving other young women fearing for their lives. It’s up to our heroine to free him from his darkness and find his humanity again by telling him the stories she has read, that are full of magic and wonderment.
Various stories are acted out from the book Shahrazad read from and the talented small cast, who collectively play over one hundred roles. The stories are well paced and directed with imagination by Amy Leach and live musicians add an element of magic to proceedings underscoring with simple mood music. From talking birds, flying carpets, doomed princesses and plenty of romance, we are invited into a world created with minimal but beautifully constructed props and scenery. Where other festive shows tend to lean towards excess, Arabian Nights lets the words and company stand front and centre, and it's a real breath of fresh air.
The cast are uniformly superb with Rokhsaneh Ghawam–Shahidi as Shahrazad (and various others) and Tachia Newall standing out from the crowd, both are captivating in each role they play, Newall’s physical comedy and abundance of energy was particularly impressive. The Quay Theatre is been transformed brilliantly with its beautiful yet simplistic set design by Hayley Grindle adapting the space in to the round. Costumes also designed by Grindle captured the spirit and wonderment to perfection with details that would make some West End shows green with envy.
If there are faults to be found with the production it’s that the run time (especially in act 1) is a little too long, a few children in the audience started to get a little restless. And whilst the show is designed for families and children some of the stories are quite dark with murderous themes, luckily the play knows exactly how to present them to a young crowd without giving them nightmares.
Arabian Nights is magical in all the right ways, as it's simple story telling with bags of imagination. It's really nice to see a show like this reaching children at this time of year. Whilst not aimed at people my age, I can take the word of one child sat near to us who spoke up as the show ended, he simply looked his friend and said "That was amazing..." and he was right.