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Theatre Review (Singapore): Arabian Nights by I Theatre

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I Theatre’s Arabian Nights is running from September 1 to 18 2012 at LaSalle College of the Arts’s Singapore Airlines Theatre. This version of the Arabian Nights, which is geared for both children and adults, is written and directed by the company’s artistic director, Brian Seward, and taken from The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights – Volumes 1,2 and 3 by Malcolm C. Lyons with Ursula Lyon (Penguin, 2008).

Arabian Nights is about King Shahriyar (Edward Choy) who is cheated on by his wife and decides to marry, bed, and kill a new wife each night. Next on his victim list is Princess Shahabad (Julie Wee). However the Princess uses her ability to spin interesting stories, halting them just before bedtime, thereby sparking the King’s interest and keeping her alive another day. The next day, the Princess continues the story and starts yet another story that she terminates mid-way, once again giving her a reprise from execution because the King wants to hear the ending of the story the next day. In this way, the Princess tells a thousand and one tales that end with the King understanding how wrong he was to kill, and he falls in love with the Princess instead.

I Theatre’s Arabian Nights showcases some stories from the collection of Asian and Arabic tales called One Thousand and One Nights, notably including “Aladdin‘s Wonderful Lamp,” “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” “The Hunchback’s Tale,” “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad,” and “The Mouse and the Weasel”.

These familiar stories are sometimes intertwined, with all the cast playing both characters from the stories as well as their main characters set within the primary story of Princess Shahrazad and King Shahriyar. Brian Seward makes very good use of each actor’s multi-level skill (eg. Candice de Rozario plays the drums and puppeteers the Djinn, as well as portraying Dalilah), thereby giving each actor a chance to play a variety of roles.

All of the actors shine, with each role changing their accent and even tone of voice, and each time bringing a slew of different expressions, gestures, and body language. Despite the play relying on only seven actors, Seward manages to tell us seven or eight tales effectively and completely, which is a true sign of his outstanding directing.

The costumes are lively and bright, and the set, while static, is used fully, serving effectively as the backdrop to all the stories as a King‘s throne, hills and caves, and more. Using puppets in the story of “The Mouse and the Weasel” is a good way to showcase another method of storytelling, and the cute puppets are so eye-catching that even the adults will be enticed.

Whilst this play isn’t an all out-musical, it does have some musical numbers by well-known composer Bang Wenfu. However, the music is a bit hit and miss. Some songs such as the Sinbad song are catchy and melodious, but others lack an interesting melody and aren’t memorable.

Having said that, Arabian Nights isn’t about the music, it’s about the entertainment value. Arabian Nights is very funny, with humour that both adults and children will appreciate. The acting is superb, and whilst the stories showcased may be familiar, all the tales are enticing and interesting.

Often, It’s absolutely impossible to find a play that is fit for both child and parent, so it’s most inspiring that I Theatre have sought to present plays the whole family can enjoy, and Arabian Nights is one such play you should catch with your kids, as this “magical carpet ride” will thrill everyone from 5 to 105.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.