There’s music too, to enhance the mood – and bring it bang up to date with a bhangra-type beat. So the audience is already on that magic carpet when the eight-strong company take the circular stage platform, around which they are seated at tables.
The storytelling has a fine theatrical pedigree. The version used is Dominic Cooke’s acclaimed adaptation for the Young Vic and the method of collective narration, passing the ‘ball’ from player to player and allowing actors to refer to the characters they’re playing in the third person, was first perfected by Shared Experience, who told some of these very tales back in the 1970s.
The overarching story is Shahrazad’s own. Despite the cruel edict of a royal husband, who has been betrayed by his first wife, that his subsequent wives will have no chance to be unfaithful if they live but one night, she survives not one, but one thousand and one nights, thanks to her stories with their tantalising cliffhangers. The beauty of the construction is the way stories are interwoven within stories and the production exploits this to the full, while still telling each tale with gripping clarity.
Given the patriarchal society in which all the stories are set, there’s a refreshing ‘girlpower’ in this retelling. Shahrazad’s younger sister Dinarzad is her accomplice, who is vital to her survival, and the women give as good as they get, often nicely outwitting - or saving the skins of - the men.
This is particularly satisfying in The Story of the Wife Who Wouldn’t Eat, a tale of sorceresses both evil and good, capable of turning a man into a dog - and back again. Thanks to some wonderful noises off and special effects, there’s real scary magic, terrific comedy with a talking dog and even an improving moral!
It’s invidious to pick out anyone in Director Gari Jones’terrific ensemble, but the women shine here. Amanda Haberland is a touching and dignified Shahrazad. Nuria Benet, who has a Spanish background, brings fire and grace to roles both good and evil, and both Miranda Nolan and Marina Abdeen have great stage presence. The men are just as versatile and energetic in the impressive cast.
- Judi Herman