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1001 Nights Now

Devised and directed by Alan Lyddiard from stories by Abas Amini, Maziar Bahari, Fadia Faqir, Johan Bergman Lindfors/Reza Parsa, Paul Mattar, Shazia Mirza, Murathan Mungan and Atiq Rahimi
Nottingham Playhouse
(2005)

A suicide bomber films himself explaining his actions to his daughter before he goes off to die. A woman describes how her arranged marriage led to disturbing episodes of domestic violence. Another speaks of the shame she suffered when her family discovered she was a lesbian. Three of the stories which go to make up 1001 Nights Now, a collection of original tales based on the real-life experiences of asylum seekers.

A co-production between Nottingham Playhouse, Northern Stage, London's Albany Theatre and the Betty Nansen Theatre in Copenhagen, 1001 Nights Now brings up to date the Arabian fairytales of Sheherazade who told her husband a different story each night. He threatened to kill her but by keeping him entertained she managed to stay alive.

The original concept for 1001 Nights Now was developed by former Northern Stage artistic director Alan Lyddiard at the Betty Nansen Theatre. New stories have been added to make the work relevant to modern audiences.

Eight performers play migrant workers who are making Christmas decorations in a British factory. They relate ten different stories. They're all written by different authors - and although the actors perform them enthusiastically and energetically, there's a huge breadth of quality in writing styles. This means you don't feel as much sympathy for the plight of some of the characters that you might expect.

Some of the stories in the first half are particularly laborious. Relief is provided by Muslim comedian Shazia Mirza who has written and performs her own piece. It's far more colloquial than the other stories and she extracts the only laughs of the evening, although she presents it as a stand-up comic rather than an actor.

The second half, with its tales of oppression and corruption, is better and develops a slightly disturbing atmosphere when four men are forced into small cages.

Lyddiard has tried to put over the tedium faced by the factory workers in their repetitive jobs - but this means the audience have to sit through long passages of mind-numbing activity. The interludes between the stories are taken up with the workers' packing decorations into boxes which they move from one place to another - and back again.

There's also too much going on in the background during the early stories. Having some of the actors stapling boxes might be authentic - but it's noisy and detracts from what the main storyteller is saying. There are also two long trolleys which are swung into different positions and used as props - but their wheels have to be snapped into position every time they stop; again it's very time-consuming and irritating.

1001 Nights Now could have been a wonderful opportunity to illustrate how certain sections of society face isolation in these supposedly enlightened times. But the work is only partly successful. The writers may have unique experiences which they can draw on - but some of them haven't shown the storytelling prowess 1001 Nights Now demands.

"1001 Nights Now" runs until October 15th before going on an extensive UK tour

Reviewer: Steve Orme