’Tis the season to be jolly! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la and Nailsea People certainly had a merry time at its first Christmas theatre production this year.
We went to see the f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s Arabian Nights at the Bristol Old Vic, an alternative mix of contemporary quips and Middle Eastern folklore in a land ruled by a divorced, despotic king (Nicholas Karimi) who successfully terrorises his subjects and has no idea about climate change.
Set in an impoverished fishing village the royal narcissist is oblivious to the suffering of others as he diverts the river to make a koi pond in the palace grounds, decimates the bee population by uprooting scented flowers and has a deep, dark dungeon full of his one-night stands.
He is of the ‘peel me a grape’ ilk with terrible dress sense.
Actually, the costumes for this show all look as if they come from the nearest charity shop and the set by Hannah Sibai is simple but effective with wheel-on wheel-off props.
All the ingredients of a great story without the gaudy and bawdy over-the-top humour of a traditional festive musical comedy – a real family show.
After hearing Jennifer Saunders who plays Captain Hook in Peter Pan at the London Palladium describe on the Graham Norton tv chat show the version she stars in as ‘absolutely filthy’ it was a refreshing change not to be bombarded with double entendres and utter silliness.
With a cast of eight we watch as two sisters, feisty and formidable storyteller Yasemin Özdemir as Schere who every night left the king wanting more, Sara Diab as Dina and their father Saikat Ahamed as Maruf plot nervously to overthrow the royal order.
Ajjaz Awad as Gulab/Umm, Roxy Faridany as Maryam/Lily, valet Patrick Osborne as Jafar and Arinder Sadhra as Rahiq/Zara complete the fab line up helped by a huge, winged horse, a green large scary mythical creature and some affective The Great Escape trapdoor moments.
There was an obstinate gurt lush Bristolian character, some sweet singing and solidarity shown by placing lighted candles in the windows.
What was so wonderful was the show didn’t lose its spontaneity without the help of the ‘it’s behind you’ exchanges when the cast pondered on whether to overthrow the king a young boy two rows in front of me led the shouts of ‘YES’ at the top of his voice.
According to Guardian critic Arifa Akbar this is ‘a charmingly hybrid festive show, part modern retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, part alternative pantomime’ and we couldn’t agree more.
It moves between being a kitchen sink drama and to full of Eastern promise palatial bedroom scenes effortlessly.
As an aside we will add that the 'merry' in the opening paragraph could have been attributed to the cocktails we drank in the foyer bar pre-performance!
Carol Ann Deacon
Bristol Old Vic
PHOTOS: © Ellie Kurttz, Arabian Nights Company
Arabian Nights runs until Wednesday, January 6.
Times vary, for tickets from £10 (plus concession) go to www.bristololdvic.org.uk or all the box office on 0117 987 7877.
Recommended age seven upwards.