The Arabian Nights

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The Arabian Nights
© Tristram Kenton

Scheherezade's very life depends on her art. Each cliffhanger story she tells staves off ritual execution at her husband's hands. One thousand and one nights later, she's made a barren land bloom with nothing but words and imagination.

Above the audience, lightbulbs twinkle against a wallpaper sky. A concrete disc sprouts a lush lawn as Adura Onashile's Scheherezade infects her world with colour that, under Richard Howell's savvy lighting, positively zings off the stage. With swaggering simplicity, Ben Stones has delivered one of the most gorgeous designs of the year.

Yet Lu Kemp's inventive ensemble production – and the Tricycle's first ever family-friendly festive show – seems just as entranced by its own good looks and, for all the spring in its step, always feels like it's holding itself back for fear of making a mess. It calls for boisterous abandon and freewheeling tomfoolery, not precision and best behaviour. Despite an elongated fart-based song-and-dance routine and some moments of real flare, Kemp'sproduction is just too well-kept to catch fire.

What it does have is an extraordinary fluency, as stories-in-stories sprout stories of their own. 'Inception' has nothing on Mary Zimmermann's clever script, which carefully shows how Scheherezade's tales reflect the world and people around her and, in the end, impact upon them.


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