Writer: Suhayla El-Bushra
Director: Joe Douglas
Reviewer: Emily Hall
This December the Lyceum brings to life The Arabian Nights. Suhayla El Bushra’s original script isn’t the first musical rendition of the “Thousand and One Nights” folk stories but her take is nuanced and enchanting, perfect for children and dreamers alike.
The show tackles modern themes of authoritarianism and freedom of speech, opening on a repressed court where a Sultan’s decrees number in the thousands, outlawing stories, children and especially female children.
Enter Scheherazade, a heroine full of gumption, imagination and a whole lot of wit. Her captivating voice entreats the sultan to sit and listen. As he is absorbed by thrilling tales of adventure, the audience too finds their childlike sense of wonder.
The costumes are bright, the lighting is vivid. Choreography is perfectly coordinated with stunning set design. Elaborate palaces flash before you and misty boats emerge from the sea, drawing you unwittingly into the stories within stories that eventually move the Sultan to feel again.
Ultimately, the musical isn’t about the Sultan. El Burshra takes the traditional framing story of the folktales and draws from the clever women a powerful youth, not just distracting the Sultan but espousing the glories of imagination and creativity.
The world building is incredible to witness. The glittering kingdoms and dusty markets are populated with all of the hilarity, suspense and humanity of real life. A talented ensemble breaks into acrobatics or song at the drop of a hat. The Arabian Nights come with violence, suspense and shock bottled, but El Bushra and director Joe Douglas are responsible for infusing each character with nuance and personality, breathing life into the timeless tales.
In children’s productions, form so often subverts content, call and response undermining suspense and faecal humour diffusing any chance of romance. In The Lyceum’s The Arabian Nights, content isn’t even limited by form. Transitions between dramatically different environments seem effortless. Scheherazade may start one story, only for the baton to get picked up by shadow puppets, song, or dance.
Cheeky, engaging, funny and intensely talented, the whole cast deserves commendation. The show has it all, leaving the viewer with the impossible task of choosing favourites between musical ghosts and gender-bending genies. None of them are dispensable and not a note of the show should be missed.
Runs until 8 January 2018 | Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan