OPERATION MAGIC CARPET
by Samantha Ellis.
Polka Theatre 240 The Broadway Wimbledon SW19 1SB To 24 May 2015.
Sat, Sun 11am & 2.30pm except 2 May 3pm.
schools’ performances Wed-Fri.
Runs 1hr 40min One interval.
Tickets: 020 8543 4888.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 April.
Standard class ride between two cultures.
In case you were wondering, Samantha Ellis is not dramatising the mid-20th century airlift bringing thousands of Jews from Yemen to Israel (ah, the wonders of Google and Wikipedia). Her new play for 6-11s though, is about a swift dash between two cultures. Young Nomi lives in England, happy as any young person ever is, her mother retaining aspects of their Iraqi tradition, her father encouraging integration into their new home.
Then Nomi unlocks her history, freeing a genie from a jar of mango pickle (a downmarket dwelling; even genies must be feeling the pinch with property prices as they are). He whisks her off to Baghdad – the old Baghdad of legend, a place of colour, music and adventure. This might seem evasion of the reality of modern Iraq – something of which even Nomi’s mother doesn’t seem aware.
Yet in its picture-postcard, holiday brochure image of an ancient civilisation, the play, like Rosamunde Hutt’s efficient production, provides a reminder that Nomi’s family have come to their safe but dreary English home from a place of life, colour and energy. The contrast of penny-plain and tuppence-coloured is vivid in Sophia Lovell Smith’s design, which also allows the bustling life of Baghdad’s souk, with its colour and danger, to be separated from the front-stage modern UK home, safe but dreary, with Nomi determined to find her way back to her family.
Both script and performances are decently done. Like Polka Theatre itself, Operation Magic Carpet, in title and dialogue, has all the aspects of a genuine attempt to connect with young audiences, while giving a sense of belonging to an earlier generation. Sarah Agha’s Nomi overtly dramatises her speech and her character’s situation, and the family are dutifully presented with their different attitudes, edged with a comedy aimed at suggesting reality. The Iraq figures are exaggerated with a simplicity which, in its way, parallels how adults used to speak to the young.
All the energy and action, and the comic edges, would have seemed fine a few decades ago. But somehow it never takes flight as today’s most imaginative children’s theatre does.
Nomi: Sarah Agha.
Dad/Shofiq/Spice Seller/Backgammon Player/Sinbad: Jason Eddy.
Mum/Aida/Apple Seller/Aphrodisiac Seller/Yasmin/Rooty: Géhane Strehler.
Genie/Emil: Hemi Yeroham.
Uncle/Caliph/Tooth Puller/Citrus Seller/Ali: Adam Youssefbeygi.
Director: Rosamunde Hutt.
Designer/Costume: Sophia Lovell Smith.
Lighting: Aideen Malone.
Sound: Sam Walsh.
Composer: Attab Haddad.
Fight arrangers: Rachel Bown-Williams, Ruth Cooper-Brown.