devised by the company.
Unicorn Theatre (Weston auditorium) 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ In rep to 17 March 2013.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 Feb.
Seriously joyous thousand nights in seventy minutes.
They came together over many centuries, from many countries, the stories known collectively as ‘One Thousand and One Nights’. And just as Shahrazad’s purpose in keeping the wife-killing Sultan intrigued gives an overall structure to the disparate collection, theatre adaptations have worked best when creating an overall sense of progress. This new, brief version for 6+, coming to the Unicorn from Transport theatre, provides a modern setting and sense of geographical dislocation.
Keen reader Shahrazad is part of a happy family; Danusia Samal’s attentive absorption with the pages of books contrasts her character’s anxious concentration on her ‘phone in this play’s repertoire companion Liar, Liar.
Both use the same set. Designer James Perkins here places items of rubbish in the pit fronting the raised central block. They’re important, as Shahrazad and her dad flee danger; for their happy home’s in increasingly violent Syria. Mother has no passport so must stay behind, adding to their stress in adapting to a new life and language.
Reading holds the girl together. Easy storytelling, whereby father delighted his daughter with the Nights’ comic tale of Abu Hassan, is replaced by accommodating to a new language, with the gestural support that demands. Stories emerge in surprising ways, the familiar ‘Cinderella’ becoming a quick-fire, fast-action comedy, while the story of three brothers whose competitive journeys turn into co-operative action, notably has the characters enacting a story with whatever’s to hand, raiding stuff dumped in the pit to create a magic carpet and – well, to create magic.
As director Douglas Rintoul and the three fine, contrasted performers do throughout. Samal’s serious joy is offset by Ritu Arya’s liveliness (her Neighbour’s the one not directly from the conflict) and Thomas Padden moving between melancholy violin playing and joining in the children’s fun. Perkins’s waste-ground set is both a neutral canvas for the imagination and a reminder of the devastation Shahrazad has escaped. The rooms shadowily behind it seem less purposeful. But, in their thoughtful yet ebullient show, director and cast have a fine accessible piece which celebrates the power of stories against the darkness surrounding so many lives.
Mother/Neighbour: Ritu Arya.
Father: Thomas Padden.
Shahrazad: Danusia Samal.
Director: Douglas Rintoul.
Designer: James Perkins.
Lighting: Gary Bowman.
Sound: Helen Atkinson.
Assistant director: Natasha Jenkins.