First Night: Freed from shadow of the fatwa

Haroun and the Sea of Stories National Theatre London

A HAPPY irony, to begin with. Just a week after he was freed from the Iranian death threat, the premier at the National Theatre of a wonderfully inventive stage adaptation of the first piece of fiction Salman Rushdie wrote in the shadow of the fatwa.

Then a less happy irony. Either Special Branch have developed a sudden unprofessional passion for the art of theatre, or, to judge from the tight security at the opening night, where checking was like Heathrow without the charm, being free for Rushdie still has its similarities with not being so.

On one level a delightful children's fable, drawing on a range of influences that stretch from the Arabian Nights to The Wizard of Oz and The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is also an allegorical reflection on the author's own fate.

Rashid Khalifa (Nabil Shaban), a great storyteller nicknamed the Shah of Blah, loses the Gift of the Gab and his son Haroun sets out on a daring interplanetary mission to recover it for him. This involves waging war against the fearsome Khattam Shud, the Prince of Silence, who has poisoned the life-giving Ocean of Stories and who eats light with his bare hands. This destructive dignitary hates stories because they contain worlds he cannot control.

With a curtain of sumptuous saris at one end and a bank of exotic musical instruments at the other, Tim Supple's staging is the feast of kinetic communal story-telling one confidently expected of the director who gave us a splendid Grimm Tales.

Continually, his production finds witty equivalents for the pointed playfulness of the original. To convey the dark/light reversal of Khattam Shud's realm, for example, his cultists swarm round garbed in black Klu Klux Klan outfits with zipped mouths.

The groan-making puns in which the book delights find their visual counterparts in touches such as the costume of the bird, Butt The Hoopoe, which is a bare crinoline hoop (geddit?) from which he rises like a Great Crested Teddy Boy.

A rich suggestiveness is evoked with a stunning simplicity of means. For example, when Nitin Chandra Ganatra's winning Haroun stares in awe at the precious diversity of the streams of stories, their uniqueness is movingly conjured up by his training a spotlight on individual faces in the audience - including that of Rushdie, who was persuaded to come on stage to take a vigorously applauded bow at the end.

The enemy city finally collapses like a puny grey melting wedding cake; lengths of turbulent black cloth are sucked down into a trap door. There is deliciously droll use of filmed inserts and of shadow play.

A master at creating fluid ensemble, Supple regularly produces the best Christmas shows at his own theatre, The Young Vic. This year, he has stolen a march on himself.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before