The Arabian Nights (Lyceum: 30 Nov ’17-6 Jan ’18)

The Arabian Nights. Photo credit - Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

“Visually stunning”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

The Arabian Nights is based on the well-loved book of the same name, and is adapted for stage here by Suhayla El-Bushra. Presented largely as a collection of short stories told by the central character (Scheherazade) in order to impress the Sultan who holds her mother captive, it’s a simple concept that all ages can find something magical in.

And there are several moments of wonderment and enjoyment to be had in the stories, which introduce many fantastical characters and scenarios: from people who get turned into animals, and vice versa; wives who love to shop and spend their husband’s ill-earned money; and, of course, spirits with the ability to grant wishes. El Bushra’s script stays faithful to many of the tales within the book, and also scatters some pleasingly modern references to keep the performance relevant to today’s audiences. A couple of interesting gender-blind casting choices also make for great amusement!

The show is performed by a ten-strong cast of multi-talented actor musicians who variably act, sing, play instruments, do puppetry and create all kinds of magic on stage, and for me it’s Rehanna MacDonald who really stands out as central character Scheherazade. A captivating storyteller: she impresses equally well on a bare stage as when there is a huge box tricks erupting behind her, and it often feels like she is the glue holding everything else together. A special mention also to Humera Syed and Brian James O’Sullivan as the hilarious, musical talking goats – my personal highlight of the show.

Visually, this production is stunning – no mean feat for a show with numerous changes of location, time and mood – yet designer Francis O’Connor’s set manages to achieve a great deal to marvel at, creating a sense of awe throughout.

The main downfall of this production, however, is its length, and therein much of the magic is lost as the performance drags on, with noticeable and frequent dips in quality and clarity with scene after scene after scene. It’s also a shame that for an adaptation of such magical stories, which does impress with its stagecraft at many points, there is such a reliance on actual fart jokes for cheap laughs, while the odd moments of audience interaction throughout the show are so half-baked they’re practically raw.

At times this production is spell-binding, but it’s very hit and miss, so to fully enjoy this bumpy carpet ride adults and kids alike will need to sit tight, listen in, keep up and just go with the flow…

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 1 December)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Uncanny Valley (Summerhall: 29 – 31 March) – part of Edinburgh International Science Festival

Photo:.Borderline Theatre

Photo:.Borderline Theatre

“Educational and entertaining, well-worth taking the kids to”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

As a child I was never particularly into science. At school the lessons were boring and didn’t challenge me to think creatively or engage with it in real life situations. Uncanny Valley, however, does both, placing today’s children at the heart of a situation we may well find ourselves in 30 years’ time.

Essentially it’s a show about humans and robots, and the difference between the two. With the world becoming ever more robotic, the subject matter is engaging for audiences of all ages and I certainly learned a thing or two about artificial intelligence and the Turing Test during the performance. While I imagine 9-year-old me might have struggled with some of the concepts and sitting still through some of the longer “lesson” parts, many of the younger audience members seemed to grasp it fairly well and engage in the interactive elements.

As a children’s piece, one can forgive a certain amount of ridiculousness and be able to suspend disbelief to still be able to enjoy the action. Credit goes to the actors for keeping the performance engaging, with boundless energy creating big, bold characters that are instantly relatable. Kirsty Stuart in particular shines as the cut-throat Mayor who’ll stop at nothing to eliminate robots in her town.

I would have liked closer attention paid to the narrative to keep it seamless all the way through: there were quite a few unexplained jumps in time and location in the story, and I never quite believed Ada’s relationship with her adopted parents. In saying that, some of the theatrical elements are very well done: the Turing Test at the end of the show is funny and gripping; the open moral discussion about whether to swerve a car off road and kill a group of chickens to save yourself is very thought-provoking, and I was even able to feel emotional connection with the robot characters of OKAY and SARA, which adds a really nice dimension.

The beginning is a little confusing – I feel that Rob Drummond as facilitator perhaps tries too hard to convey a lot of factual information early on and doesn’t seem as comfortable in parts of audience interaction as I would expect from an experienced TIE professional. These are only small moments throughout the piece though, as on the whole it’s quite slick and professional.

Overall, Uncanny Valley is educational and entertaining, and well-worth taking the kids to, as long as you’re ready for a bit of thinking! Theatrically it is a bit rough around the edges but still full of heart.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 31 March)

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