Arabian Nights, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
RSC cloaked in borrowed robes
Tuesday 05 January 2010
It was a melancholy moment earlier this week when The South Bank Show was effectively muscled off our screens by the forces of philistinism. But I confess that I experienced a faint sense of disappointment when I discovered that the final edition was focused on the Royal Shakespeare Company and its adventures in mounting its on-going Russian season. I have no doubt that the RSC is an essential component in British and world culture. Through what other channel could you transmit through the generations vital areas of wisdom about Shakespeare, ranging from the technical to the philosophical? All the same, I do feel that, for theatrical excitement and on-the-pulse penetration, the RSC currently lags behind the National Theatre, the Young Vic and the Royal Court, even allowing for the objection that this is to compare lemons, limes, and kiwi fruit. To that extent, the final South Bank Show was not bang on the money.
A case in point is the RSC's current Christmas show, Arabian Nights. I saw it on a Saturday matinee with an audience of non-first-night punters who ran the full age gamut. They had a good time. I had a good time. But I also nursed some reservations, not to do with the quality of the performance, which was excellent, but concerning what the programming of this piece perhaps betokens about the company now.
The show is expertly adapted/scripted and beautifully directed by Royal Court supremo, Dominic Cooke. The trouble is that it's a remounting of a piece he executed more pointedly at the Young Vic in 1998. Also, this is the second time that, for its Christmas show, the RSC has resorted to this, having had Laurence Boswell recently remake his Young Vic adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Performed on a disc-like inner stage against a reflecting wall, this Arabian Nights is a highly skilled feat of story-telling, with Ayesha Dharker a bewitching Shahrazad at its centre. There are wonders of spectacle (the capes of the chorus of thieves are whipped back to reveal golden linings that crystallise into the cave stuffed with the ill-gotten lolly in the Ali Baba tale). There is spirited farce, as when the Fatal Fart in another story detonates organised chaos amongst the cast. There's genuine precision in the unfolding of stories-within-stories and in arranging concentric circles of fabulation. The goriness and ghoulishness are not stinted, but they are not going to necessitate too many interventions from the St John Ambulance brigade.
So what's not to like? Is it picky to say that this is no breakthrough, where the National Theatre's The Cat in the Hat most certainly is? Resurrecting a show which originated elsewhere is not the most, well, original thing that the RSC could have done with its resources. Contrast this with the excellent in-house adaptation (again by Cooke) of the race-reversing novel Noughts & Crosses a couple of years ago and you may feel that the company is here playing safe and being a mite evasive on the creative front.
To 30 January 2010 (0844 800 1110)
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The difference between a migrant and refugee, in one sentence
- 2 Miley Cyrus calls out hypocrisy of women’s nipples being taboo
- 3 Celebrity Big Brother 2015: Tila Tequila kicked off show after 'describing Hitler as a good man'
- 4 iPhone 5c to be discontinued, no iPhone 6c to replace it
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe Ned Stark's son may have a twin sister
Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
These Harry Potter lipsticks are sparking all sorts of controversy with Hogwarts fans
Game of Thrones season 6: Director promises most exciting premiere yet 'starts off with a bang'
Hunted: Channel 4 to test 'surveillance Britain' by taking Big Brother to sinister new lengths
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs