By Carmel Shortall
The stage at the Camden People’s Theatre is bedecked with colourful paper lamps and fairy lights creating a suitably magical atmosphere for the performance of Arabian Nights. A guitarist strums by the door as we enter and file into our seats before the cast bounce energetically onto the stage in tee-shirts and harem pants.
For those not familiar with the story of Arabian Nights (or One Thousand and One Nights) and Queen Sheherazade’s attempts to stave off her execution by telling stories to the king, there is a brief enactment. The king is betrayed by his wife and has her executed. He then resolves to marry a different woman every day and have her executed at the end. It is his nervous, teacup-rattling, vizier’s task to find these wives from the ever-dwindling stock of women in the land. Eventually his daughter, Sheherazade, comes up with a plan and volunteers as she is confident she can survive by telling stories.
There follows an irreverent and good-humored take on some of the tales from 1,001 Nights: a donkey learns to keep its advice to itself; an enchanted wooden horse flies about introducing princes and princesses to each other, genies escape from, and are trapped again in, bottles. Eventually the king falls for Sheherazade before she runs out of ideas; and the executioner dies of old age.
The five cast are all fabulous, entering into proceedings with gusto and bringing a host of unlikely characters to immediate and recognisable life. Three twine together to make up a particularly stroppy three-headed genie and another three combine to make a giant flying bird. It’s hard to pick one out for especial praise but Tamara Astor brings great physicality to the part of Mrs Axe, the executioner-in-waiting as well as the donkey and numerous other parts.
The whole is directed with great vigour by Jennifer Rose Lee who also scripted it after improvisation sessions with the cast.