How do you dramatise the Arabian Nights given that a series of disconnected tales doesn’t have a lot of inbuilt coherence? This delightful take on it for anyone aged 6 and over solves the problem by setting the stories against a poignant 21st century plot about a father (Thomas Padden) and daughter, Shahrazad (Danusia Samal) who leave their war-torn middle eastern homeland - and worse - Shahrazad’s passportless mother (Ritu Arya), and come to grey, rainy but peaceful England. Shahrazad finds escape and consolation in retelling and dramatising the stories she loves, with her father and with an English friend, doubled by Arya.
Samal is a fine actress who knows how to light her face with smiles and warmth even when it’s not being literally lit by the light inside the book she reads from. The scenes in which she and the highly talented Arya share stories with hilarious hammy props and gestures to cover Samal’s character’s initial lack of English are a real joy. And Arya’s manic account of the more or less traditional (not the Disney pantomime version) Cinderella story is a superb theatrical set piece which got her a well deserved round of spontaneous applause on press night. There is excellent work from Thomas Padden as the depressed father too. He plays a mournful obligato on violin against an evocative musical background designed by Helen Atkinson, to connote his unhappiness. At other times he springs to life as a story teller with a modern Anglicised version of a traditional story featuring the Queen of England and one of her corgis – as well as the protagonist’s being blasted through the roof of Westminster Abbey - forming another deliciously entertaining little vignette.
James Perkin’s set consists of the same central cube surrounded by a quasi moat which he uses for Liar Liar with which this show is repertory. Characters leap on and off, round and under it as it as the stories unfold. The story telling makes witty use of junk as props so we get a king crowned with a saucepan and a huge piece of polythene inflated to become a demon. In one sense we are simply taken to a world of children’s imaginative and narrative play.
1001 Nights is an enjoyable piece which celebrates, among other things, the power of stories, family and friendship. Warmly recommended.