by Poppy Burton-Morgan, Hassan Abdulrazzak, Tania El Khoury, Raja Shehadeh, Chirine El Ansary, Anonymous, Ghalia Kabbani.
Soho Theatre 21 Dean Street W1D 3NE To 1 December.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 3.30pm.
Audio-described/BSL Signed 1 Dec 3.30pm.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0100.
then Tour to 13 December 2012.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 November.
Showing fictions and politics have always intertwined.
Recent years have seen those 1,001 Nights seriously upgraded in British theatre. But Metta Theatre’s new multi-authored show goes further, using the traditional tales as a starting-point for relating the power of stories, and stories of power, to the modern Middle East. The author known as anonymous isn’t unknown, but has an identity needing protection.
Director Poppy Burton-Morgan’s prologue establishes the frame, with the first bit of audience involvement (harmless if awkward and pointless throughout) and an assertion of the power of stories – this is a work of fiction, after all.
Or perhaps not, for soon into Iraq-born Hassan Abdulrazzak Sindbad story, before a roc gets a chance, something ‘surprising’ happens, turning the story into an account of escape and immigration into southern Europe.
It’s the start, too, to the idea of parting in what becomes a pattern of separations. Abdulrazzak treats it startlingly, introducing the puppet of an exiled old man who makes increased demands on Sinbad, whom he increasingly humiliates while turning from sympathetic exile to ruthless tyrant.
Throughout the evening, pieces like this, with striking images, make the strongest impression. Live artist Tania El Khoury, whose life is divided between London and Beirut, is modern as can be, inviting audience tweets, using William Reynolds’ basic design idea, a wall of shoe-boxes, as a computer screen on which the title character of The Tale of the Dictator’s Wife orders more and more shoes online – appropriately enough, with her feet. To smooth-running music, an inverted Dina Mousawi’s legs contribute to the ensemble by tapping-out choices until revolution freezes the account.
And there’s an intriguing palimpsest of ancient myth and contemporary news, of djinn and security forces in Palestinian Raja Shehadeh’s Tale of the Two Djinnis and the Wall. Elsewhere, points can be over-explicitly spelled-out and the temperature of performances sometimes drops.
Still, Arab Nights is an original concept, bold and often moving – though, despite the final celebration of story-telling carried down through the generations, and while delighted Shahrazad keeps her head, I’m not sure I’d like to rely on a good beginning and middle to prevent a premature end.
Shahrazad/Ensemble: Dina Mousawi.
Dinazarad/Ensemble: Natalie Dew.
Perviz/Ensemble: Lahcen Razzougui.
Director/Dramaturg: Poppy Burton-Morgan.
Designer: William Reynolds.
Sound: Adam King.
Composer: Bushra El Turk.
Additional video: Nazeeha Saeed.
Assistant director: Mary Franklin.