Arabian Nights, Royal Shakespeare Company

Last night, a whole house load of Lawsons, my mum and stepdad, my half-sister and her kids went to Stratford to watch Arabian Nights by the RSC as a pre-Christmas treat.

Arabian Nights is the story of a storytelling Queen, Shahrazad, who will be executed by the King unless she can think up new stories to tell. Like the Canterbury Tales or Decameron, it’s basically a framing story for a disparate collection of folk tales; some are high and courtly like The Knight’s Tale and The Story of the Envious Sisters, others bawdy like The Miller’s Tale and How Abu Hassan Broke Wind.

The latter had such a triumphantly staged megafart that every child in the audience (and juvenile adults) were laughing hysterically for minutes. The cast used puppets, slapstick, and mime to tell the stories in a manner that consistently held our attention (as did the gorgeousness of lead actress Ayesha Dharker).

The show was quite long—over three hours—but it rarely dragged. Perhaps the final story could have been pacier if there had only been one brother to fail in the quest, rather than a second who repeats the first’s failure. Once or twice, some of the dialogue jarred for me; most of the dialogue was in a high narrative style so Shahrazad’s reponse to a request with “I’ll see what I can do” sounded clichéd and lazily written.

But those are small criticisms of an otherwise excellent production.

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