Arabian Nights – Hoxton Hall, London

Writer: Nessah Muthy

Director: Daniel Winder

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

A smell of burning incense fills the air and a faint haze lingers. Hoxton Hall, with its dark walls and ornate decorations, was once a Victorian Music Hall and it is certainly not short on atmosphere for Iris Theatre’s family-friendly telling of fables of the fabulous and fearsome, drawn from a bygone civilisation.

Writer Nessah Muthy frames the tales cleverly even if her dialogue never quite matches the colour and sparkle of the show’s costumes, designed by Maddy Ross-Mason. Sharazad (Sharon Singh) is a slave at the court of the woman-hating tyrant King Shahryar (Pravessh Raga) and protector of her younger sister Dunzayad (Izzy Jones). The King takes a new bride every evening only to have her killed the following morning and, in order to delay what seems to be the inevitable, Sharazad begins to enthral him with her tales.

Daniel Winder’s full-blooded production adapts the space to create intimacy. A thrust stage extends into the stalls, well below the neck-craningly high main stage and draws the audience into the storytelling. The centrepiece of the first half of the show is the story of Ali Baba ((Hemi Yeroham) and the treasure of the thieves’ cave; in the second half, Yeroham turns up again as an aged Sinbad, recalling his voyages, which are depicted using spectacular puppets, designed by Jonny Dixon.

With lashings of imagination, Winder conjures up an eye-catching show out of very little.                Maya Britto and Ikky Elyas join the four named previously to make up the six actors who are rotated skilfully to play all the roles, often behind grotesque masks, and to serve as puppeteers. The Sinbad story in particular has a cartoon-like feel which should appeal to children. The show is given an 8+ rating, but it does not shy away from the barbarism in the stories and many of the monstrous beasts and giant ogres that appear could prove more than a little scary.

Grown-ups may be over-familiar with the stories and, apart from occasional nods to modern feminist themes, Muthy finds little new to say to them. At 150 minutes (including interval), the show is much too long and there is a strong feeling that it includes at least one tale too many. This is a show to take the kids along to and provide a comforting shoulder for them to hide their frightened eyes when the monsters appear.

Runs until 13 October 2018 | Image: Contributed

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