Arabian Nights

Tue 12th – Sat 16th June 2012


Thomas Stell

at 23:51 on 12th Jun 2012



This was one of those productions that had ahead of it another world of light and colour and the scents of the East; a phantasmagoria where feelings and characters are huge and beautiful. In that direction at least our “Arabian Nights” set out, though unfortunately the golden road to Samarkand proved a little too much for some of our artists, who showed themselves to be rather second rate camels instead of the veritable ships of the desert we could have done with.

Those of you who know the Burton Taylor even as well as I am sure many of you do, would not have recognised it tonight, not from the inside at any rate. A great many-coloured tent has been put up in the dark and box-like studio. The smell of old and stale theatre has been replaced by that of the hubble-bubble pipes. The light within the silky cloth is soft and mellifluous. If only more student shows had designers like Anna Lewis, more with such an obvious love of atmosphere and the exotic. The story, it is so famous one hardly needs describe it, is of King Shahryar, who, betrayed by his first wife, has resolved to marry a new virgin for each night, and kill her the next morning. But we first see the king (Nick Burns) on the night he has chosen Scheherazade, the daughter of his Vizier, and a girl with a remarkable gift for story-telling. Night after night she pushes her fate a day further off with a thousand and one (or thereabouts) tales of the djinn, of bandits and kings, of ghouls, sorcerers and great beasts.

The first of the stories is about a fisherman who catches a genie imprisoned in a bottle and forces it to bring him to good fortune. Second we have a prince who finds a beautiful damsel held inside a tree, only to be chased away by her demonic captor. Last is a woman who, to get her lover a reprieve must seduce a mayor, a judge, a king and a carpenter. All are ably told with puppetry, physical theatre and a lot of straightforward narration. They are fun to watch, but at no point in the tales, or indeed the whole of the piece, do we see brilliant theatre. The actors seem plagued by the technical inabilities naturally common among untrained students. Many appear too stiff and awkward for the mime to be really good, and a man with more presence than Burns might have made a better king, though he did look properly anguished.

In the main the acting is not at fault, in fact the third of the stories shows off Ibby Khan’s comic abilities very well. It was the script that let this production down. With most of the words for the stories devised by the cast, Alex Darby has written the linking episodes in a style which abounds with such horridly modern phrases as “delusional policy”, “public consequences”, “you should have no problem with...” and “when the law was still in effect”. Pseudo-poetry was not avoided either with such as “curdle the blood in my heart”, and in his youth the prince of Persia apparently studied “philosophy, psychology, biology” which sounds like a university course. They were lucky not to get a laugh for that.

But the script was not enough to destroy the special magic of this production. It is a work of unashamed spectacle, far away from some of the more pretensiously relevant or meta-theatrical of Oxford plays.


Lindsey Allan

at 03:28 on 13th Jun 2012



Condensing ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ into a one-hour theatre production is a difficult task, and the directors and cast of ‘Arabian Nights’ did admirable work in connecting Alex Darby’s interpretation and making it their own. The frame story of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ serves as the centre of this theatrical adaptation, and tells the story of a Persian king who, after discovering his wife has been unfaithful, murders her and decrees that thereafter he will sleep with one virgin every night whom he will murder the next morning. Shaherazad, the vizier’s daughter, risks her life to change this law by offering herself as one of the virgins, using stories to persuade the king to reflect on his decisions and to realize his actions are wrong. In Tommo Fowler and Lucie Dawkins’ production, these stories were acted out by the members of the cast as they were being told.

The set of ‘Arabian Nights’ was the production’s most effective element, as it immerses the audience in the world that has been created in the space. Before the performance began, King Sharayar (played by Nick Burns) was seated on his throne and the storytellers were seated around him, swaying to the beat of the drum in the corner which continued to play throughout the performance. As the audience entered the performance space (the king’s bedchamber), which was shrouded in coloured cloth with dimmed lighting, they were seated on surrounding cushions and thus became part of the space, which was solidified upon the play’s start when the king addresses the audience as “my people” and explains the new law he has enacted. Members of the audience across from me even smoked hookah, giving the effect that the audience was participating in the performance. Nouran Koriem’s performance of Sheherazade was admirable in its versatility, as she was able to depict the varied emotions of her character as she experiences both the fear of death provoked by the king and the bold desire to stand up to the king to fight for other women like herself. While Nick Burns was guilty of some over-acting in his role as King Sharayar, the king is meant to be quite bold and rash in manner, and Burns and Koriem displayed great chemistry in their scenes together, as the king begins to fall for Shaherazad.

Besides the staging, a major success of this performance was the comedy of the reenactments of the various stories told throughout which often had the audience laughing out loud. The stories were enacted in interesting ways, using props like stick puppets and techniques such as shadows created by hand motions by torchlight in the dim space. The timing of the comedic effects was well-performed, such as the story of the woman who tricks four men into her cupboard in which Ibby Kahn (who also plays the vizier) simultaneously performs the role of all four men, continually reemerging from the cupboard. Although the acting of the other supporting roles such as Shaherazad's sister was not worthy of note, it was a highly entertaining performance and I would recommend attending for the enjoyable experience of being immersed in an alternate world by the performance space.


Audience Avg.

0 votes, 0 comments

Click here for more event information

cast involved

other events on

Version 0.3.7a