Arabian Nights

MATILDA WNEK: “there’s only so far you can go with a production whose highlight is a crab impression.”

ADC theatre arabian nights divised Drama two stars

ADC,  1st– 4th December, 11pm, £6-4

Directed by Jenny Maudsley


If this play had been half the length it would have got double the stars. Ok that’s not strictly true: there’s only so far you can go with a production whose highlight is a crab impression. Yet, the ensemble had a winning way and if they were your best friends you might have found it really funny… for the first half hour.

Early expectations were not set at a high by an unpromising programme- I faintly remember ‘ludicrous fables’ appearing in my first ever game of ‘Madlibs’- and a set that was apparently determined by one person’s ability to make origami cranes. An opening sequence that prepared us to be “bombarded with imagination”, did little to eleviate this onset trepidation.

Semantic invalidity aside, the audience was quickly won over by what was a surprisingly well executed version of a pretty well worn idea. The unassuming production meant that the occasional genuinely comic moments had a high payoff.

The five actors multi-roled their way through the various devised tales. As far as I could tell this was primarily to showcase their not unimpressive command of animal impressions. In fact, after we’d all lost interest in the plight of the storytelling wife and her imminent execution, I don’t think I was the only one wishing they’d just let us watch more of Will Chappell’s ‘suffocating trout’. I also enjoyed that the girl playing a bull actually had a pierced septum.

One by one, though, the actors’ exhausted their repertoire and started having to double up to fill the hour. This quickly descended into a sweepstake as to who’d be the next actor to run out of new ‘voices’. By the time that the ‘baby chick’ had started to resemble the ‘farmer’s wife’ from scenes gone by, they began to lose grip of their lines and the magic of their spontaneity was lost.

In place of magic was numbing tedium. If you find your eyes drifting over to watch the harpist doing a cheeky bit of onstage tuning to pass the time, I think it’s fair to say we’re looking at a two star cap. That said, the ensemble worked well together and at times the blips of absurdity were really very funny; just not the second time round.

Given that the story centres around a woman whose life depends on her ability to keep the king enthralled, it essentially required the audience to be willing the play to continue to perpetuity. The irony this thickened with every passing scene change. Maybe it was a genius bit of meta-irony, in which case this was artistically brilliant, but still theatrically defunct. Creative and deliberate irony or not, the play’s gradual regression into disorganised banality was an unfortunate ending to an otherwise characterful piece.