17.(L-R) Tim Licata, Nick Karimi, Nebli Basani and Patricia Panther. Photo credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan_preview
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
The Arabian Nights is unusual: a children’s Christmas show that never mentions Christmas. Of course it doesn’t – this is a collection of mainly Middle Eastern and Indian stories – but they’re wonderfully apt for the festive season, as marvellous and magical as can be. Suhayla El-Bushra’s script is sprightly and engaging, and nicely complemented by Joe Douglas’s lively direction. This is a delightful production.
At its centre is Scheherazade (Rehanna MacDonald), a young girl who has fallen foul of the tyrannical Sultan (Nicholas Karimi). Desperate to stay her impending execution, she regales the taciturn leader with tales she has learned from her storyteller mother (Neshla Caplan). Despite professing to hate stories, the Sultan is beguiled, demanding more and more. And, as time goes by, the two develop an unlikely friendship.
The staging is lovely: simple but evocative, brightly coloured and celebratory. And the stories are beautifully told: there’s puppetry and music, shadow-play and song. It’s zesty and energetic, the stories tumbling across the stage as quickly and impressively as the acrobats. It could be chaotic, but it’s not, even when we are faced with a sequence of four (or is it five?) tales within tales, each left open as the next begins, a masterful piece of writing if ever there was one. The actors are fantastic too: a true ensemble, most performing many roles with humour and precision.
Accessible yet profound; moving yet funny; sophisticated yet full of fart jokes: this is perfectly pitched for a family audience.
This powerful production by Stellar Quines Theatre Company, commissioned and supported by the National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep, is written by Jaimini Jethwa, and based on her personal experience. It tells the story of the Ugandan Asians, expelled by Idi Amin in 1972. With just ninety days’ notice, they were robbed of everything they owned and despatched to whoever would give them a home. Jethwa’s family ended up in Dundee. Her story is told by an unnamed young woman (Rehanna MacDonald), a character who has grown up in Scotland but who is still slowly coming to terms with what happened to her family when she was a baby.
MacDonald delivers an incendiary performance, pacing restlessly back and forth across the stage as she recalls her childhood memories, her teenage years running wild on the streets of Dundee and her recent trip back to Uganda to revisit the family home. She’s ably supported by Patricia Panther, who adds some resonant songs to the mix, providing a constant onstage presence, mostly watching in silence as the events unfold. (In truth, I would have liked to have heard a little more from her, but I guess you can’t have everything.)
This is a fascinating slice of history, brilliantly recounted and economically directed by Jemima Levick. Lovers of good theatre shouldn’t miss this one.