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Arabian Nights: A dazzling story telling spectacle for all the family

Finn Knudsen reviews Bristol Old Vic's lastest festive family show.

By Finn Knudsen, Third Year Medicine

As we approach the end of 2023, Bristol Old Vic has marked the start of the festive season with a show for all the family. Arabian nights is Sonali Bhattacharyya’s reimagining of the middle eastern classic and is an unconventional take on the quintessential winter show.

The performance opens with the magical winged horse appearing on stage. The beautifully designed puppet, voiced by Saikat Ahamed was used throughout to frame the narrative and set up a world filled with oppression under a tyrant king.  The two young and enthusiastic sisters, played by Yasemin özdemir and Sara Diab use the power of oral storytelling, a distinctive form of activism to inspire the people to fight for their rights. In a tale that covers ideas on environmentalism, to life in a police state, the sisters, along with a supporting cast of plucky villagers must fight to overthrow the overtly pantomime-inspired evil ruler played by Nicholas Karami. 

Image Credits- Ellie Kurttz

The show has a range of charming characters framed in its festive ambiance. Although the song lyrics were simple and singing voices slightly shaky at points this only added to its approachability to the children of the audience. The show smartly integrated points of audience interaction which were unique and engaging and its simple and concise plot meant the energy was maintained throughout.

Although the show drew upon some of the stories from the original One Thousand and One Nights interwoven into some imaginative musical numbers it mostly strays away from the source material forming its own story and bringing the theming of the original folktales. While this may disappoint fans expecting something more reminiscent of other productions it gave the writers freedom to construct a narrative more relevant to today’s UK audience. Many scenes are centered around the domesticity of the family home, which is broken through the King’s transgressions. The dialogue throughout is centered around this transgression but remains colloquial and comic, appealing again to those of a younger age.

Image Credits- Ellie Kurttz

A backdrop involving simple set designs and outfits gave the space for some brilliant comedic performances especially from the king’s advisor played by Patrick Osborne. The combination of slap stick humour and political satire had both the adults and children in the audience in hysterics, although some of the climate commentary felt a bit forced at times.

In appealing to a wide audience, Arabian nights meets the expectations for a family oriented festive production. However, appealing to a range of ages is quite a delicate balance. Although its warm and approachable atmosphere made for an enjoyable performance, the show struggled with a lack of memorable dialogue to really set it apart.

Featured Images Ellie Kurttz

Arabian Nights is running till the 6th of January, get your tickets here:

Arabian Nights | Bristol Old Vic
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