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Arabian Nights
Published on Friday, 19 August 2011

3 stars

Paradise in Augustine's (venue website)
16-20, 23-27 Aug, 11:25am-12:50pm
Reviewed by Lee Zhao

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

The Arabian Nights is one of the most famous anthologies of stories and folk tales in the world, and arguably the best-known work of literature from the Arab world. Many of our preconceptions of Arabia come from stories contained in the Arabian Nights: stories like Sinbad, Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

The original musical from Adam Forde and David Perkins, which encompasses the frame story and three of Scheherazade's tales, happily stays faithful to the original source material and is enthusiastically brought to life by the teenagers of the Yvonne Arnaud Youth Theatre.

For the most part, the music is simple but effective. Utilising only keyboard, clarinet, wind chimes and tambourine, with an air of Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite Scheherazade – especially in the clarinet part – it's mysteriously evocative. However, there are a few vulgar key changes I could have done without.

The cast is most at ease during animated moments of slapstick, although some of them were liable to get a little carried away and were in danger of chewing all of the delightful scenery. But it seems this group felt singing wasn't its strong point. Though there is quite a bit of incidental music, songs were few and far between and many involved speaking in rhythm or singing in unison. The occasional solo number showed up a few issues amongst the leads: a lack of projection and a few off-key moments amongst the more complex Eastern harmonies.

Like the original Arabian Nights, this production is charming and will have strong appeal to children, though the final shadow puppet montage will be a treat to all. But the acting and singing is rough around the edges and some of the individual performances need polishing. I was always aware throughout that I was watching a youth theatre production, but there is the raw potential there for the future.

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