This Fringe production by Jennifer Lee is far from the lavish setting typically associated with these tales of the Orient.
The scenario is, of course, familiar: lady protagonist Scheherazade (she prefers ‘Shaz’) boldly proffers her hand in marriage to the King. Though fully aware of the sovereign’s predilection for executing his brides on the morning after the wedding, she believes she’ll be able to save her own life and bring an end the cycle of monarchical murder by telling him a never-ending series of fantastical stories.
From here on in, the audience is treated to an hour of talking animals, princes and princesses from far-flung lands, and a flying horse, acted delightfully by the cast of five actors, all limitless in their ability to switch from crab to concerned father, and from genie to inquisitive unborn chick.
The play, originally performed at the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club, leaves enough to the audience’s imagination to make the performance feel intimate, with the cast dressed in black with only a small nod to the theme of the production.
The witty script, which features a smattering of jokes on current events, evoked a consistent and deserved laughter in the small theatre. Avoiding the pitfalls often associated with modern takes on classic stories, the vigour and enthusiasm with which Lee has created this piece succeeded in breathing life into an ancient tale without inducing cringes from her audience.
As the play draws to a close we suspect the King may have changed his attitude towards the heroine, and due to a charming performance from Charlotte Reid, I found myself enthusiastically supporting Shaz.
However, the real star turn of the play comes from the guitarist, whose unassuming presence in the corner of the stage and beautiful playing acts as a kind of acoustic set, effectively transporting the balmy atmosphere of the ancient Middle East to contemporary north London.
Arabian Nights runs until Saturday 18 August at Camden People’s Theatre, Hampstead Road NW1. Tickets £8.50
Words: Evie Burrows-Taylor