Arabian Nights, this year’s Christmas show at Bristol Old Vic, is based on One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales which is thought to have been compiled into a manuscript at some point between the 8th and 14th centuries. Common to the stories is the ruler Shahryar having the tales narrated to him by his wife Scheherazade.
For this 2023 show, writer Sonali Bhattacharyya has updated the classic stories for the 21st century. Schere, the modern Scheherazade played by Yasemin Özdemir, is a young woman who sets out to take down a greedy, tyrannical king using the power of storytelling.
The strong willed Schere sets off to the palace much to their dismay of her less adventurous sister Dina (Sara Diab) and her edgy father Muraf (Saikat Ahamed). But it soon becomes clear that Scheme can’t complete the mission on her own, so Dina and Muraf turn to the people of the Kingdom to join the cause.
As well as the actors, Arabian Nights features puppets of a winged horse and a giant serpent who are used to illustrate Schere’s stories.
The production is visually beautiful with a set full of colour. The collection of windows which are illuminated with candles in support of Schere’s escapades is a nice touch, and the puppetry is enjoyable.
Among the cast, Nicholas Karimi is a joy as the selfish king who acts like a spoilt child to get his own way from his long suffering assistant Jafar (Patrick Osborne). Their interactions on stage are often hilarious.
Overall however, Arabian Nights unfortunately doesn’t deliver the magic of previous festive productions at Bristol Old Vic. The singing isn’t the strongest, while the dialogue and themes of the show are sometimes disjointed. It’s a clever interpretation of an old story to reflect modern times but it’s not our favourite Christmas show.
Arabian Nights is at Bristol Old Vic until 6 January 2024.