Christmas: Children. Stories. Magic. Farting Dogs. Chess Playing Monkeys.
The Arabian Nights has it all, and it’s a delightful, beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable bit of theatre for all the family. The staging and scenery (and even some of the magical scenery changes) are quite spectacular, and the dialogue is fast, funny and spellbinding. It has all the classic elements of a Christmas Pantomime, but it’s really a cut above the genre, and succeeds spectacularly. The huge numbers of children in the audience were clearly spellbound throughout, and there were numerous moments where the whole audience, of all ages, were laughing uproariously and clapping with pleasure.
The characters and costumes deserve special mention. Among the ensemble of actors, several swapped roles convincingly and quickly, with different voices and accents serving to distinguish them. The costumes were lavish, colourful and exotic, and the staging, props and little touches of magic from time to time all add to the atmosphere of a thoroughly enjoyable might at the theatre. Two amazing dog puppets introduce us to the story, and their irreverent toilet humour and doggy antics and stories are a joy to behold. The sets, too, are beautifully crafted and decorated, and the staging and movement is so inventive, and quite magical at times, with split-second trapdoor and lighting switches, and high-tech shadow puppetry all adding to the mesmerising entertainment on stage.
Central to the story is of course Scheherazade, who finally melts the heart of the harsh demagogue Sultan with her amazing stories, and frees her mother and her friends from the Baghdad dungeons, and has the draconian laws that cow the people revoked. Rehanna MacDonald’s lively, lithe and pithy performance is simply outstanding, and it was refreshing to hear a clear Scots accent from the lassie throughout. The Sultan is suitably dour and forbidding at the start, but he slowly and convincingly regains his humanity as the story moves on and his heart melts at the wonder of Scheherazade’s tales. The Sultan’s Guards are convincingly stupid and slapstick, and the supporting cast are all extremely strong, can always be clearly heard, and move around the stage with a fluency and joy that can only have come from hours of patient rehearsal, tight direction and meticulous choreography. Often there is a tendency to over-reach in acting and to exaggerate things in a show for children, but there is no complaint about this performance – it’s spot on, well timed and hits just the right tone for children (and us old yins) to enjoy.
There is so much to delight here: Evil Genies, Sinbad the Sailor, the Boy Monkey, the Falcon, and hilariously played talking goats (who also happen to play the accordion and the violin) are among the most memorable of the fabulous characters. The music throughout transports you to old Arabia, and the songs and vocal performances are melodious, catchy and hugely enjoyable to listen to. Little touches such as the dogs sniffing around the theatre and appearing on balconies towards the end of the interval added to the sense of joy and wonder for the audience.
This is a spectacular, joyous and gorgeously crafted show that will lift your spirits, make you and your children laugh long and hard, and have you once again believing in the magic and the power of storytelling. This is theatre at its best – magical, joyous and just good fun. Book up now, this is fantastic.
The Arabian Nights
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
25 November 2017 – 6 January 2018 7pm
2pm Matinees Weds Sats & Suns
2hrs 5 mins with 20 minute interval