There are one thousand and one ways to reinvent the classic Arabian Nights, and Suhayla El-Bushra has dreamt up a tale perfect for all ages. Despite a worrisome start, this production is a must see this holiday season. Arabian Nights follows the tale of a Scheherazade, small girl who uses her imagination to save her family and transform an evil Sultan to a lovable friend. Scheherazade is the perfect heroine for small children filled with the same silly creativity.
This adaptation alludes to many of the popular folk tales from the original work, including “The Fisherman and the Jinni” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, while adding fresh stories that are sure to keep kids giggling.
El-Bushra’s interpretation of Arabian Night’s sets off on a rough start, as the opening scene consists of two hounds making fart jokes that wholly miss the mark. As characters are introduced, they appear flat and lackluster. However, the production quickly picks up in a whirlwind of colour and song. The costume and set designs are both whimsical and festive, creating a perfect escape from the cold Edinburgh winter. Everything comes together at the beginning of Act II, as Scheherazade wanders the palace in search of her mother. An adorable duet between Scheherazade and her mother rings out above the chaos of moving doors and props on stage.
Rehanna MacDonald delivers a nuanced performance as Scheherazade, and it is a joy to watch her character slowly develop confidence and wit. It is brilliant to see Scheherazade gain footing as a storyteller, whose stories develop from the delightfully childlike ramblings to emotional monologues. Halfway through Act II, MacDonald even manages to deliver a riveting story grounded in heavy-handed fart jokes, to roaring approval from all audience members. Short one-liners frequently brought a smile to my face, and references to modern struggles, such as “hangry” people are relatable to all.
Younger audiences might be enchanted by the quirky tale of the “sock genie,” but there is ample depth for older audiences to explore as well. El-Bushra uses storytelling to toy with viewers’ expectations, as we slowly come to understand the Sultan. Amidst the grand productions of Scheherazade’s stories, the audience is given three understated stories which parallel the plot progression and help uncover the mysterious Sultan. We see the Sultan as a heartless villain, a heroic and loving father, and then, finally, as just a man. Nicholas Karimi’s Sultan plays each of these personas well, highlighting the truths buried in each variation of his life. It is easy to get lost in the magic, but this progression brings a method into the madness. El-Bushra successfully balances storybook magic with intrinsic truths. Despite the young target audience of this production, all viewers leave the theatre with a little bit of magic and a reminder of our shared humanity.
Suhayla El-Bushra’s story finds much more than the recipe for “fish pond soup”. It represents the recipe for a perfect family outing.
The Arabian Nights
Runs until 6th January
Photo Credit Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.