Theatre

TALES FROM THE ARABIAN NIGHTS London Bubble, Dulwich
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The Independent Culture
Last week the Proms - in their purest form - did not take place at the Royal Albert Hall, but in the rather unlikely surroundings of Dulwich Park. Here a ragtag army of young families, German tourists, and crusties with their dogs on a string promenaded around the greensward in pursuit of a troupe of actors performing Tales from the Arabian Nights. You've heard of street theatre; well, this was municipal park theatre. And very jolly it was too. Once you had shut yourself off from the nearby rollerbladers, BMX bikers and footballers - "Can we have our ball back, please, Sheherezade?" - you found yourself caught up in an enchanted world of kings and queens and prophetic apes and metamorphosing he-goats. It must also be the only theatre in London where audience-members can smoke without being dragged out kicking and screaming by a fundamentalist team from ASH.

Before last Tuesday's show, parents mingled over designer bottled beers and falafel in pitta bread while their children tore around playing It. The atmosphere was decidedly more Glastonbury than Glyndebourne. As they shuttled between five makeshift stages trailing plastic chairs, rugs and ice-lollies behind them, the children seemed transfixed by Farhana Sheikh's reworking of ancient Indian and Middle Eastern tales - complete with exotic music and dancing. When the King asked Khalifa the Fisherman if he had any water, a litttle boy in front of me jumped up flourishing a bottle and shouting, "Here's some".

The versatile six-person cast (Linda Dobell, Simon Thomson, Charlie Folorunsho, Nina Wadia, Syreeta Kumar, Ken Shorter) interacted well with the audience; when the narrator took up the story, the other actors would come among us saying, "Listen, this is quite important". Adults might quail at the more graphic tales of crime and punishment, but - as the popularity of Roald Dahl shows - children are far less squeamish. They like their justice rough. The youngsters last Tuesday appeared to relish a theatrical universe full of treacherous servants being castrated. They shrieked with especial delight when the King threatened a potential traitor with the words: "Executioner, stick that spike up his arse."

Directed by Jonathan Petherbridge, the production had a Blue Peter-ish make-do-and-mend air about it. The backdrop for one stage was made up of used Costa Rican coffee-sacks, and the scenery was being shifted around the park on an old Express Dairy milkfloat. A stage-hand with a tape-recorder on a shopping-trolley directed us from site to site. With its slightly half-hearted pyrotechnics (flaming torches, puffs of red smoke), ramshackle sets that shook in the breeze and grown men capering around in outsize blue papier-mache heads, it was like being blissfully transported back to the rough-and-ready charm of Jeux Sans Frontieres. A rattling good night outside.

n 'Tales from the Arabian Nights' 7.30pm Tues-Sat Chiswick House, London W4 to 18 Aug

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