A new, well-timed production based on the Arabian Nights will remind audiences of the enduring power of storytellingby Michael Coveney / July 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Cutting edge drama: Hajar Graigaa in One Thousand and One Nights
One Thousand and One Nights
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 21st August-3rd September
After years of planning, British theatre director Tim Supple was finally ready to begin work this February on his production of One Thousand and One Nights, a six-hour, two-play edition of 20 stories from the source we know as the Arabian Nights.
Two dozen actors and musicians from all over the Arab world—Cairo, Baghdad, Ramallah, Palestine and Syria—were going to assemble for rehearsals in Egypt, in a Jesuit monastery in Alexandria. Then President Hosni Mubarak’s regime collapsed.
Supple and his collaborators relocated to Morocco, rehearsing instead in the El Mokri Palace in Fez, where the courtyards, colonnades and narrow, winding streets proved an unexpected bonus in revisiting the Arabian Nights. In August, following a June premiere in Toronto, the show will form the centrepiece of the Edinburgh International Festival’s drama programme.
The actors have wrestled with notions of where they should be and what they should be doing: making history at home, or staying with Supple to show the world that freedom and culture transcend local difficulty. Several performers have friends in prison. Others arrived having spent days and sleepless nights defying authority.
Supple and his creative team didn’t update the production to take the Arab Spring into account. The central concern of the relationships between men and women transcends this turbulence, he argues.
Yet the work itself changed in the light of those events, as happens with any great work of art.“This is not the first or last cycle of upheavals in those nations,” he says. “The Arabian Nights is a classic work that accommodates and reflects all the shifts in history. The stories are about the trials and challenges of social existence, but of course the passages about justice and powe…