The Arabian Nights is our 2017 Christmas special from The Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, and on paper this should be the perfect marriage of two events. Christmas time is traditionally when The Lyceum pulls out all the stops for a wonderful story full of imagination, and lets the creative imaginations of set and costume designers run wild. “The Arabian Nights” is a collection of ancient stories of magic and wonder that have enthralled generations of people as spoken word and text stories. The combination of two classics was something that I had been looking forward to for some time now…what could possibly go wrong?...well, it seems EVERYTHING.
I believe that words are almost magical in their own right and capable of giving us stories of wonder to fuel our imaginations. When written down they can take the reader into a space far away from their daily lives, but when the words are spoken by a master story teller then something extra special can happen as somewhere inside all of us is that need to be told wonderful stories. Given the original source material, we should have been pulled into an Arabian wonderland of market stalls and magic and Scheherazade should have captivated us all with her stories. Instead what we got was a re-working full of mundane instead of magical stories whose main focus seemed to be on poo stories (not the lovable bear type), very flatulent dogs (of the puppet type) and flatulent humans. Oh poor Scheherazade, if these had been your tales then you would not have diverted the Sultan for more than a few minutes.
Our stories do in some form give us some remote semblance of the core ones widely associated with The Arabian Nights -"Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp", "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves", and "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor". All of these are however 18th century additions to the tales added by European translators of the stories and not in the original compilations.
There is simply no magic here anywhere to be seen and the production seems to be trying to force some sort of marriage of the “Arabian Nights” into a more traditional pantomime, but it fails badly at this as there are no layers to the story or the jokes that allow it to appeal to both adults and children at the same time. None of that traditional innuendo or political satire is present here, instead we have a production bordering on something that many school productions could easily equal in content value in all areas…even the songs and musical numbers are instantly forgettable.
If you are five years old then you might find the dog and human flatulence jokes funny for a moment or two, but I am sure that humour will wear off quickly even for the children. I can only look forward to the 2018 production and hope that The Lyceum somehow redeems itself for this odd lacking in taste with a production that seems to be something in a style that most serious theatres left behind decades ago as public tastes and opinions changed on so many fronts.
Review by Tom King