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Arabian Nights – The Watermill, Newbury

Adaptor: Toby Hulse

Director: Robin Belfield

Reviewer: Tom Finch



“The story” we are told “has started and cannot be stopped before it gets to the end” and a good thing too as every moment of this production was a joy to watch. The premise is simple; a bitter King whose heart is frozen locks up his new bride in a cellar. She with the help of her slaves and some cunning theatrical magic tell him stories in the hope to warm his ice cold heart. They are not the first to try though, already 1001 storytellers have tried and failed losing their lives. What follows is a series of stories with plenty of music, dancing, genies and ingenious staging.

There are so many wonderful moments in the play that it is difficult to single out a few. The Rubbish Fisherman is great fun with the low budget genie a definite highlight. So too is the The Ebony Horse which made fantastic use of the resources available.

The small ensemble cast of six all work hard and are rarely offstage and in true Watermill style they all play an array of instruments onstage. Morgan Philpott is hilarity personified and was met with shrieks of approval by the young audience members. His turn as Aladdin’s Bellydancing-phobic supposed uncle hits just the right notes of camp humour without drifting into panto territory. Kit Orton as The Hakawati (storyteller) is great fun to watch as well and he plays no less than two different genies, each with superb comic timing.

Simon Slater’s tuneful score keeps the action ticking along and the songs by and large are full of fun and are performed with real gusto by the immensely likeable cast.

What really makes this production so much fun is Toby Hulse’s pitch perfect adaptation &Robin Belfield’s incredibly effective and engaging direction. The clever yet simple framing device allows the characters to step outside of the stories and comment on the action to hilarious effect. Some of these asides may have been lost on some of the younger audience members but they certainly kept the older folk entertained.

In fact it was a key part of the success of this production that everyone, young &old, was laughing for a lot of the time and when they weren’t they were by and large listening intently. The moments of audience participation were great fun; it wouldn’t be right to spoil the surprise but you are given a nice warning about it if you pay attention!

Even if the ending comes along a little quickly and seemingly out of nowhere it doesn’t really matter too much as the journey was the important part and what a brilliant journey it was. This is two hours of pure unadulterated joy for the whole family; a perfect festive treat.

Runs until 6th January 2013 at The Watermill, Newbury

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