The Arabian Nights havsserved as a template for endless writers and dramaturgs around the world and this seems to be the case again, as six writers from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Egypt set out to revamp the famous tales with an experimental modern twist, depicting the recent uprisings in the unstable Middle East and North Africa. This piece of new writing is theoretically a wonderful idea but it is occasionally let down by its somewhat erratic execution and the apparent lack of on-stage chemistry.
Shahrazad (Dina Mousawi) has been blessed with the rare skill of storytelling and relies on this talent to save herself from being executed by an unforgiving tyrant, played by a frequently hesitant audience. Mousawi demonstrates confidence, maintaining a quick paced and physically demanding performance throughout but like her co-actor Perviz (Lahcen Razzougui), stumbles over her lines on a few obvious occasions. The performance is given more depth by the multi-talented Dinarzad (Natalie Dew), whose pitch perfect singing and flawless stage presence add credibility to the production. Razzougui successfully engages with the audience during a superb monologue, but it seems that he has been let down by the writing as he is generally overshadowed by his female counterparts.
William Reynolds, the play’s Creative Director, must be credited for putting on an outstanding visual display, including one which serves as the base for one of the play’s most comical moments – an iPad screen projection used by a stereotypical shopaholic dictator’s wife to purchase an obnoxious number of Louboutins online. The use of light (and matchsticks!) provides some unexpectedly beautiful moments and the props are skilfully used throughout to serve as puppets, people and machine guns.
The production is a refreshing, inspiring and innovative collaboration, skilfully directed by Poppy Burton-Morgan but somehow fails to captivate. There is obvious talent, on and off stage, and a bold vision, but it sometimes feels a little rushed and confused. The premise of audience participation is usually a controversial one and in this case it serves as the perfect backbone for disruption and more unfortunately, for loss of momentum. Overall, Arab Nights is an ambitious project which deserves to be credited for its creative bravery but requires maturity to reach its full potential.
Arab Nights played at Soho Theatre. For more information see the Soho Theatre website.