Review: Arab Nights

Image: Richard Davenport, courtesy of Metta Theatre

You are walking through a darkened square. Sooner or later you will hit a wall of government forces armed with batons and guns. But there’s a disturbance. Do you run for it? Or do you find the hand of the protestor next to you and carry on?

This is the choice offered in “The Tale in His Mind”, by an anonymous Iranian playwright, a story in which the audience takes centre stage. It is the second to last in a series of vignettes inspired by the Arab uprisings that make up Arab Nights, directed by Poppy Burton-Morgan and performed by Metta Theatre. Making sense of ongoing revolution is no small task, but for the most part the writers – all Middle Eastern in origin – have produced original and evocative work.

Presented as tales of the fabled Shahrazad from Arabian Nights, the strongest plays underline what can be done with little or no props. In “The Tale of the Dictator’s Wife”, Tania El Khoury’s exposition of the gap between a ruler and the ruled is stylishly conveyed through physical theatre and the luxurious soundtrack composed by Bushra El Turk. A satire on Islamist opportunists involves the transformation of two actors and a shoebox into a believably irate goat.

Conversely, where the plot seems flat or overdone, there is very little else for the audience to absorb. The last tale attempts to tie up the strands of modern revolution and the classical framework, but the references are difficult to follow and it cannot help that the characters are represented by shoes.

Still, Arab Nights should be compulsory for anyone interested in the Arab uprising, Middle Eastern talent or even social media. It may not have all the answers, but it certainly raises a lot of questions.

Arab Nights is at the Soho Theatre until 1 December 2012, 7.45pm (also 3.30pm on Thurs and Sat), £12.50 (£10 concessions)

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About Julia Rampen

London-based journalist. Find me on Twitter @JuliaRampen

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