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The Arabian Nights

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 07:41 AM PST

★★★★☆   Ravishing

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Thurs 30 Nov 2017 – Sat 6 Jan 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Beautiful to look at and clever enough to know when to be stupid, The Arabian Nights at the Lyceum is genuine family Christmas entertainment.

One Thousand and One Nights (as it was originally known) is an ideal inspiration for a portmanteau show such as this one. It drew on a variety of traditions for its stories, and some of the most celebrated – such as Aladdin, Ali Baba or Sinbad – were only added later.

Nick Karimi. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

The presentation here draws on a variety of storytelling traditions and theatrical techniques both ancient and modern, with performers from a more diverse background than is usual in a Christmas play. This leads to a freshness, modernity, excitement and inclusivity that is far from the troubling 'Orientalism' of some such adaptations.

Writer Suhayla El-Bushra and director Joe Douglas have come up with a playful, cleverly structured and visually arresting production that should appeal to all ages. The jeopardy that faces central character Scheherazade (a wonderfully energetic and expansive Rehanna MacDonald) is somewhat toned down from the source material, with the threat of being executed after her wedding night being replaced by a desire to free her mother and her friends from the tyrannical Sultan.

However, there is still enough peril in evidence. Indeed, there is one moment towards the end, dealing with the limitations of stories to do good, that is genuinely upsetting – although admittedly more to the adult members of the audience.

jokes about farting and dung

There is plenty to entertain younger spectators, however, from copious jokes about farting and dung to some excellent talking goats. The tales Scheherazade tells to divert the Sultan are varied and full of surprises. Scheherazade's story itself, meanwhile, is naturally being narrated by a flatulent enchanted dog.

Tim Licata, Nick Karimi, Nebli Basani and Patricia Panther. Pic Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

The versatility and craft of a tremendous company mean it is constantly inventive. Nicholas Karimi's Sultan is a beautifully complex and human characterisation, while to single out any of the other performers would be unfair, as they are uniformly striking and extremely funny, as well as tuneful interpreters of Tarek Merchant's music.

Douglas and designer Francis O'Connor conjure up a parade of seemingly effortless and ravishing effects; some moments of theatrical sleight-of-hand show how magic can be created without recourse to technology. There is also some clever puppetry alongside some truly wonderful use of shadowplay and projection.

There are certainly a couple of moments that are less secure. The scatological humour is overplayed, while the narrative, utterly secure in the first act, becomes tricksy for its own sake midway through the second half before reaching for a profundity that fails to ring entirely true.

As an entertainment, however, there is so much to recommend here. In particular, this production – recommended for ages 5+ – would be an ideal introduction to 'legitimate' theatre for children. This is because it combines challenging yet accessible subject matter with that sprinkling of magic that makes for an ideal Christmas show.

Running time 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Thursday 30 November 2017 – Saturday 6 January 2018
Tues – Sat evenings at 7.00 pm. Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.00 pm.
Information and tickets:

Brian James O’Sullivan, Rehanna Macdonald, Patricia Panther and Tim Licata. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


Production team call-out

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 07:23 AM PST

Production team wanted for Spring Awakening

Recently formed Edinburgh-based amateur musical theatre company TBC Productions has put out an open call for the production team to steer it through its second production, Spring Awakening, in June 2018.

TBC Production’s aim is to produce lesser performed ensemble shows with small casts that are rarely seen on Edinburgh stages outwith the Fringe. Its first production was in June, with a staging of Little Shop of Horrors in the Festival Theatre Studio.

The company is currently accepting notes of interest for production team roles, Director, Musical Director and Choreographer, in preparation for auditions beginning in January 2018 – although no dates have been confirmed at present due to the impending appointment of production team.

The show will take place at The Studio at the Festival Theatre from Wednesday 27 to Saturday 30 June 2018 with a Saturday matinee.

The musical of Spring Awakening is based on the 1891 play by Frank Wedekind. Duncan Sheik’s rock score juxtaposes the 19th century setting and subtext weaved throughout the script. It deals with many issues teenagers currently deal with including depression, anxiety and sexual awakening but within the constraints of the period it was originally written.

a wide variety of shows

Committee member, Thomas McFarlane told Æ that his hope is to continue to draw in new members to the company and produce a wide variety of shows containing varying casts.

He said: “It is amazing the responses we have already seen regarding auditioning and we are hoping this will continue in the run up to auditions”.

The deadline for applying for one of the production roles is the Sunday 4 December. Anyone wishing to apply should email as soon as possible. The show will take place at the Festival Theatre Studio from Wednesday 27 to Saturday 30 June 2018.

Listings and links

Spring Awakening Production Team Call Out
Contact for further details.
Applications and notes of interest should be submitted by Sunday 4 December 2017.

Spring Awakening Auditions
January 2018
Date and venue to be confirmed. Contact for further details.

Spring Awakening
The Studio @ The Festival Theatre, 22 Potterrow, EH8 9BL
Wednesday 27 – Saturday 30 June 2018
Evenings: 7.30pm; matinee Saturday (time tbc).

TBC Productions on Facebook: @TBCProductionsEdinburgh


The Wonderful Story of Mother Goose

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 03:33 PM PST

★★☆☆☆   Not enough zip

Inverleith St Serf's Church Centre: Wed 29 Nov – Sat 2 Dec 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is plenty to enjoy in St Serf's Players' take on one of the oldest pantomimes of all, The Wonderful Story of Mother Goose. However, despite some pleasing traditional elements, it is missing that sparkle of fairy dust that makes panto so enjoyable.

While many professional pantomimes now seem to have fewer and fewer female roles, this one is distinguished by having an almost entirely female cast – interestingly, the only male in evidence takes on the 'principal boy' role that would once have definitely been played by a woman.

Rona Arnott. Pic: Walter Hampson

This means that the dame role – Mother Goose herself – is female. While this is unusual, particularly considering that Thomas Dibdin's version of the story did as much as anything to establish the whole idea of the pantomime dame, there is certainly nothing inherently wrong with it. Rona Arnott does well in the part, adding a new spin on the concept and putting both humour and pathos across well.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast are not all as good. There is no getting away from the fact that this off-the-shelf script by Norman Robbins is unwieldy and frighteningly long. By the time the audience participation number comes round it is already after ten o'clock and interest has waned more than a little.

A story that is not nearly as well known as most pantomimes is swathed in unnecessary layers – surely we do not need an evil squire character to boo as well as an evil fairy? In fairness, Carole Birse and Joy Jin, in these two roles, are among the best at selling their lines to the audience. Elsewhere, there are some very old jokes that need to be attacked eagerly and brazenly – rather than almost apologised for, as they seem to be here.

unfathomable quips

While there are a couple of venerable routines that come off due to the confidence shown in them, unfathomable quips about Cilla Black or ET are far too common. There is also one whole schoolroom scene that seems several decades past its sell-by date. The odd, but distinctly welcome, topical or local reference stands out like a sore thumb.

The young ensemble from Trinity Theatre Company. Pic Walter Hampson

The musical numbers are almost entirely left to the children of the Trinity Theatre Company, who have a great deal of energy and commitment that is not always present elsewhere; however, they rarely seem integrated into the rest of the show.

The main problem is one of pace. It is possible to be too broad in panto, but it is very difficult; this production errs far too much on the side of caution. At least a more over-the-top style would have the effect of injecting the speed and liveliness that is lacking here.

For example, Anne McClary and Mollie Johnson, as the Squire's bailiff's Sage and Onions, turn in what would be perfectly good acting performances in a realistic comedy, but here they just seem out of place.

Joy Blair's Silly Billy Goose has a good deal more life, and does very well in the opening exchanges with the audience, but could easily milk things a great deal more. Keith Hooper's romantic lead Colin grows in confidence as the show progresses, building up a rapport with the audience, but his featured songs with Jodie Lawrance's Jill Goose are somewhat thrown away. Robina Harding gives Priscilla the magic goose just the right degree of poise.

Susan Wales and Alison McCallum give the good fairies a sense of otherworldly stateliness that is effective – and would be even more so if that stateliness was not carried over to the rest of the production.

There is nothing notably bad in Jack Paterson's direction, or in the performances. There is the odd missed line, but no more so than could be forgiven. What is missing is the sense of the cast having fun that is so easily communicated to the audience; this seems rather glum, and far too slow.

Running time 2 hours 40 minutes including one interval
Inverleith St Serf's Church Centre, 1a Clark Road, EH5 3BD
Wednesday 29 November – Saturday 2 December 2017
Wednesday – Friday: 7.30 pm; Saturday: 2 pm and 6.30 pm
Information and tickets:
St Serf's Players Facebook: @St-Serfs-Players-134933050031042

The cast of The Wonderful Story of Mother Goose. Pic Walter Hampson