One Thousand and One Nights, Parts 1 and 2, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Our Days of Rage, Old Vic Tunnels, London
South Pacific, Barbican, London

It's six hours long, and in Arabic, but don't be put off: this retelling of ancient stories is both mesmerising and thoroughly modern

The Arab world's One Thousand and One Nights, a string of folk tales told by Shahrazad, the legendary vizier's daughter, to enthrall the lethally misogynistic King Shahrayar, masquerades as a bunch of suspenseful and humorous bedtime stories.

But it is really a revolutionary proto-feminist tract.

That may seem surprising, given the West's view that our democracies are streets ahead on women's lib. However, a household of sisters who refuse to marry, defying a Caliph's orders, are at the core of director Tim Supple's outstanding dramatisation. Co-adapted by Lebanon-born novelist Hanan al-Shaykh, this is being performed by a globetrotting, Arabic-speaking cast at the Edinburgh International Festival. The sisters, like Shahrazad, are threatened with execution. Yet it's the Caliph who ends up conceding ground to them.

Infused with a warm golden light, Supple's staging looks beautifully simple. In this, he is very much Peter Brook's successor. An antique, wooden portal forms the backdrop. A few rugs are strewn on the floor. And the multiplying stories fluidly intertwine as the cast, often barefoot, slip between storytelling, listening, or playing characters in the tales.

Structurally, though, this six-hour epic is an elaborate arabesque. It's like a fantastic tree of ever-branching stories which range from Bluebeardish horrors to slapstick vignettes. Each story subtly ties in with Shahrazad's overarching mission: to cure Shahrayar of his misogyny and turn him into a judicious ruler who listens to the case histories of deviants and understands people's deeper motivations and flaws, frustrations and aspirations. The topicality of this – from the Arab Spring to post-riot Britain – doesn't need spelling out.

Despite the emphatic feminist slant, this adaptation is far from sociologically simplistic. Male characters can be heartbreakingly tender before, suspecting adultery, they flip into shocking violence. And Assaad Bouab's psychologically complex Shahrayar has, underneath his sexual abusiveness, a sorely wounded heart.

Aside from some longueurs and out-of-synch surtitles, on the day I attended, this was quietly wonderful, world-class theatre, blessedly free of Aladdin-style glitter. A jinni, emerging furious from a bottle, looked like a lardy bruiser lightly smeared with soot, the tiniest hint of dark powers in the black feathered bracelet on his bicep.

The choreographed sex scenes are also the most refreshingly brilliant I've ever seen. With Imen Smaoui as movement associate, those scenes run the gamut from wild orgiastic swinging to cold brutality to scampering hilarity with an extraordinarily well-judged mix of poetic stylisation, graphic authenticity and abandon.

The National Youth Theatre's new play Our Days of Rage boldy grapples with hot topics – protesters and riots, militant terrorists and Muammar Gaddafi. As the audience is led through murky caverns under Waterloo station, we are basically tracking the fictional life story of Libyan-born Hanna. Circa 1969, we see her naming ceremony when she's photographed, as in infant, in the arms of the VIP guest: a smiling and clearly admired Gaddafi. But, 10 years on, Hanna's journalist father has become increasingly critical of the dictatorship, and Gaddafi's henchmen viciously persecute and traumatise the family. Emigrating to Britain, her mother's homeland, Daniella Isaacs' Hanna rejects her father's culture, won't join in the 1980s protests outside the Libyan Embassy; and turns into a hard-nosed banker. Finally, however, shaken by Nato bombing of Libyan civilians, she turns into a suicide bomber in SE1.

Alas, her motives are garbled, not helped by the script being an assemblage of scenes by nine young writers. But the ensemble acting is commendably assured, and Paul Roseby's production has some exciting moments, police charging out of the fog.

Finally, South Pacific has arrived in the UK, fanfared as a dazzling production from New York's Lincoln Center. Well, Bartlett Sher's staging proved mildly underwhelming on press night. Playing Nellie, the US Naval Base nurse, posted on a tropical island during the Second World War, EastEnders' Samantha Womack seemed bland against the beige sand, held back by a broken toe. Still, Rodgers and Hammerstein were startlingly bold, tackling the issue of American racism at the same time as writing lovely, wafting, romantic tunes. And the opera singer Paulo Szot nearly raises the roof, as Nellie's determined suitor Emile, with his richly vibrant, showstopping rendition of "Some Enchanted Evening".

'One Thousand and One Nights' (0131-473 2000) to 3 Sep; 'Our Days of Rage' (0844 871 7628) to 15 Sep; 'South Pacific' (0845 120 7550) to 1 Oct, touring to 4 Feb

Next Week:

Kate Bassett tests The Faith Machine, a new play about faith and capitalism

Theatre Choice

Rupert Goold's clever and audacious Merchant of Venice, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, is set in a fantasy-tinged, xenophobic Las Vegas, where Portia and her casket-guessing suitors star in a TV game show (to 26 Sep).

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible