BRISTOL’S Old Vic Theatre is transformed into a magical city state in Arabia this Christmas. There’s a palace, a prison and a house where some of the “ordinary people” live, as well as sea monsters and a marvellous flying horse. And Schere is telling her stories to the petulant and babyish king.
This brilliant retelling of the famous Tales from the Arabian Nights, written by Sonali Bhattacharyya and directed by Blanche McIntyre, has everything you want from an “alternative” seasonal offering. It’s full of excitement, comedy, community spirit, clever plans, twinkling lights, rhythmic music and inventive sets, with energy and heart by the sack-load.
The despotic and (dare I say it) narcissistic king cares not a fig for his people as long as his every exacting whim is satisfied – and instantly. His chief servant, Jafar, has developed a tortuous balance between serving the king and saving the people. But still the dungeon under the palace is filling up with the “brides” the king discards after one night of fleeting pleasure, and the rest of the population is starving, without fuel, food or comfort – sounds horribly familiar, doesn’t it?
When the summons comes for the daughter of a neighbour to become the latest “wife,” Schere, older daughter of Maruf and his late wife Lily and sister of Dina, decides to make a stand. So off she goes to the palace to try to change the king into a better man, by telling stories with cliffhanger endings. You might think you know the rest, but really you don’t!
The terrific cast, led by Yasemin Ozdemir as Schere and Nicholas Karimi as the king, includes BOV favourite Saikat Ahamed as the father (and the head of the magic horse), Patrick Osborne as Jafar, Sara Diab, Ajjaz Awad, Arinder Sadhra and Roxy Faridany, many of them making their Bristol debuts.
Arabian Nights is on until 6th January, so there’s lots of time to enjoy this magical retelling of a familiar story and to immerse yourself in both the fun and the (lightly delivered) important messages.
Photographs by Ellie Kurttz