Arabian Nights, Hoxton Hall

A puppet scene between Sinbad and a large bird

This is the first time I have visited Hoxton Hall, one of the last remaining music halls in London, and it seems a very fitting venue for this economic production of Arabian Nights. Iris Theatre have made excellent use of puppets, masks and simple props to bring Nessah Muthy’s vision of these classic stories to life. Muthy has used selected Sharazad stories in this production, who is a brave female slave, although this differs from her original role as a tyrannical king’s daughter. We follow the tale of Sharazad avoiding execution by King Shahryar by telling him stories, thus persuading him to let her stay alive for just one more day, and another, and another…

A large demon-like puppet stands behind King Shahryar
King Shahryar displays his demon.

Sharon Singh is spellbinding as the determined Sharazad, captivating King Shahryar and the audience with a ride through familiar tales such as Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves and Sinbad the Sailor, along with some tales which are probably less known to British audiences. Pravessh Rana makes a booming, formidable King Shahryar, but with a vulnerability underneath the man committing his horrific acts. They are well supported by Izzy Jones as Sharazad’s beloved sister Dunzayad, Hemi Yeroham as the King’s Vizier Khalid, Ikky Elyas as the King’s executioner and Maya Britta as one of the King’s unfortunate wives.
A cat puppet being worked by Dunzayad
Dunzayad plays the Cat, working with the Crow, which is out of shot.

All of the cast play various roles throughout the production, which is especially charming given the ‘story within a story’ structure of Arabian Nights, and all interact with the audience with great humour, making us feel part of the tales. Muthy is quoted in the programme as wanting to represent women of colour on stage as the drivers of their own narratives, which I think comes out particularly well in this production. King Shahryar’s treatment of women is horrific and terrifying, but he isn’t the centre of the story; Sharazad is telling stories for not only her life, but her sister’s, and their struggle is the bond of love which anchors the narrative. This is a clever, engaging production of a classic, which is powerful enough to delight adults of all kinds.
King Shahryar embraces Sharazad from behind
King Shahryar and Sharazad

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