The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, King's Theatre, Edinburgh (1/5)
One Thousand and One Nights, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (4/5)
Tuesday 23 August 2011
As I was the only person I knew who hadn't yet read Haruki Murakami's masterful novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I promptly did so, which rather spoilt me for Stephen Earnhart's world premiere stage adaptation (co-written with Greg Pierce) at the International Festival.
The portentous mixed-media show at the King's, running at just under two hours, is absolutely the opposite of the novel, which is light, subtle and meandering and very funny, as well as horrifying in parts.
The hero loses his cat, his wife and his mind while simultaneously understanding the secret of the universe, or at least his part in it, which is tragically insignificant. On stage, the most you can do is a sort of Robert Lepage job on the elemental aspect of the narrative. Earnhart's production has a big blue moon, some live electronic music, a couple of vivacious choric incursions, a spindly wooden puppet and some fey encounters between James Yaegashi's slightly leaden Toru Okada and Maureen Sebastian's pert and punchy May Kasahara, the girl who succours him at the bottom of a dry well.
In starkly animated and colourful contrast, Tim Supple's two-play, six-hour staging of One Thousand and One Nights, scripted from the earliest versions of The Arabian Nights by the Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shayk, is an instant classic of engaged story-telling.
The addictive, healing power of fiction is proved first by Shahrazad saving her skin by telling her rapist king a diversionary fable which then spins out into other sub-stories which she, and indeed the king, or at least the actor playing him, inhabit. It's a brilliantly conceived theatrical trick.
Instead of subsiding into static "one thing after another" mode, Supple's wonderful production maintains dramatic momentum in the need for each story to be told and they are revealed like a series of Russian dolls, one inside the other.
But what dark and vengeful stuff this is. No place here for Aladdin or Ali Baba: here are rapists, cuckolds and killers. Life is cheap, especially where women are concerned.
Whatever now happens in Libya, Nights, which was born in the Arab Spring and is performed by actors and musicians from across the Middle East, proves that liberty at large means nothing without freedom between individuals.
The actors speak in French, Arabic, English, with sur-titles – and bring to the stage a true atmosphere of courtyards, alleys and souks, and the hypnotic, scary enchantment of a rediscovered literary masterpiece.
'Wind-Up': to 24 August; 'Nights': to 3 September (0131 473 2000)
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