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The Arabian Nights review at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘a fresh, contemporary feel’

The cast of The Arabian Nights at Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan The cast of The Arabian Nights at Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
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Many stories are told in Suhayla El-Bushra’s new adaptation of The Arabian Nights, but by creating a new telling of Scheherazade’s own story El-Bushra makes stories her subject too.

Rehanna MacDonald is a surly teenage Scheherazade, forced to rely on her wits with Nicholas Karimi’s story-hating Sultan imprisons her storyteller mum and every stall holder in the market.

Tricking her way past his guards – a preening Nebli Basani and vicious Patricia Panther – she intrigues him with her tales until, unearthing his secret sorrow, she creates a nest of interlocking stories to save her own life.

Francis O’Connor’s design makes strong use of Arabic fretwork to create an easily moveable set of screens and hanging tapestries with geometric motifs. A succession of moveable doors open on each other to enforce the idea of nested stories. Joe Douglas’ production is fast-paced as the 10-strong cast move between numerous characters.

Tarek Merchant’s original music, played live by the actors, has hints of both musical theatre and Arabian styles. The performances are strong, with notable turns from tumbling Taryam Boyd, playing up the humour, Tim Licata bringing elements of clowning technique and Neshla Caplan in glorious voice.

It might not be pantomime, but it mimics many of the form’s best elements and has a solid sense of redemption at its heart.

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Storytelling becomes the subject in a production that gives classic stories a fresh contemporary feel