Talented youngsters take on magic tales as Arabian Nights is staged by Norwich Theatre Royal Youth Theatre Company
- Credit: Archant
Talented local youngsters are bringing the exotic tales of the Arabian Nights to the Norwich stage with the help of puppets, dancers and a little sprinkling of theatrical magic.
Winter may be upon us but theatre audiences will be whisked away to warmer climbs as Arabian Nights is staged by Norwich Theatre Royal Youth Theatre Company.
The youth company has a track record of unearthing stars of the future and this year's talented young cast will perform a selection of the magical 1,001 tales of the classic Arabian Nights in the theatre's new Stage Two education centre.
David Lambert, director of the theatre's Arts Courses and the man directing Arabian Nights, took a break from rehearsals to tell us what audiences can expect. 'Shahrazad decides she's going to try and distract the king, who is executing one wife every night. She tells him stories to try and take his mind off it, and after 1,001 nights, he turns from being a crotchety old thing, to being deeply in love with her. And it all ends happily, which of course it should.'
This adaptation, by Dominic Cooke, who also wrote and directed for the BBC's Hollow Crown Shakespeare adaptations, was previously staged by the Young Vic and RSC. Dominic was inspired by the original 18 volumes of the Arabian Nights, housed in the British Library. But this doesn't look like it's going to be a dry, historical evening, as the cast make clear.
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'The story itself is quite dark' says Charlie, who is starring as the murderous King Shahrayar. 'So there's a lot of comedy in there to lighten it up – we play with accents a lot. We do Sinbad, and we've got puppets in that one. And later on in the play, we've got a big bird puppet!'
David agrees: 'There genuinely were 1,001 stories – we've only got about eight, I think. My favourite one is 'The Night Abu Hassan Farted' – and that's genuinely one of the original stories! Because some of them were very serious, some romantic, and some of them comic.'
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The cast talk to us while wrapped in their sparkling golden robes and velvet cloaks.
'Yes, everyone has got these lavish costumes that make it that much more spectacular.' Charlie explains: 'It is our first run-through with costumes, and already it has become that much more exciting, it's so vivid.' Eleanor, dressed in a royal-blue skirt fringed with golden tokens for her role as Ali Baba's slave Marjana, chimes in: 'It's one of those plays where, because the story is so out there and different, having the costumes and sets really brings it all to life.'
Those flowing costumes are going to have even more impact in the song-and-dance number that closes the show – or as Charlie describes it, 'one big finale of a dance where everything is good again' And for Eleanor, it's even more of a challenge: 'Yeah, I have a lovely solo dance,' she begins, before cast mate Octavia deadpans, 'it's beautiful,' and the two collapse into laughter.
So why is it that these stories, dating back centuries and first told on the other side of the world, remain so popular today? Indeed, they've inspired everything from Disney movies (Aladdin) to video games (Prince of Persia).
David and Charlie have different ideas on why this might be.
'I think it's very relevant to today's society, it's very feminist,' argues Charlie. 'We've got one woman who goes above, shows she's stronger than everyone else, and in the end, she's the hero of our story – or heroine, rather!' David has a slightly different take: 'The whole piece celebrates the power of storytelling, which is the oldest form of theatre in the world. I mean, people were telling each other stories in the caves, I'm sure! It's all about the magic that storytelling can create.'
Speaking of stories, this is a slightly unusual title to choose for a Christmas show; we might have expected something like A Christmas Carol, or maybe even a Nativity play. So why have the group chosen to stage Arabian Nights at this time of year?
'I think there's a lot of hope in it,' says Eleanor, 'for the main female character, and for the King too. That's very Christmassy, belief in other people.' David smiles: 'Yes, it's not necessarily Christmassy – but it's quite magical. As I say, storytelling is the oldest form of theatre, and it's so gripping for young people, for old people, actually for everybody. It's enchanting.'
• Arabian Nights, Stage Two, Norwich Theatre Royal, December 8-10, 7.30pm, £10 (£8.50 cons), £8.50 students, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk