Nottingham Tri-campus Arts Festival: One Thousand and One Nights

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If a shape-shifting blue genie, preferably voiced by the late Robin Williams, had sprung from my teapot last week and offered me a free ticket to another student and staff-led theatre performance, I might have declined and asked to be spared any more classic musicals. Since the dawn of The Mikado, to the magically lit A Midsummer Night’s Dream, UNMC has brought its audience wave after wave of big, classically staged performances, mostly from the mother ship: Britannia.

But the prospect of One Thousand and One Nights, directed by Sergio Camacho, was indeed promising as it was a performance bearing many smaller performances, hence stories. And more importantly, it gathered students from all the Nottingham campuses under one Malaysian roof.

 

Shahrazad and her one thousand and one stories

Those who enjoy Disney animated films were in for a treat as One Thousand and One Nights presented, in its musically enchanting manner, stories of Ali Baba, Sinbad the Sailor, as well as other oriental tales that can make you burst into laughter (especially the tale of the Great and Historic Fart). Dr Derek Irwin, Head of School of English and a veteran in the university theatre scene, played multiple roles, and was no doubt the actor the audience loved and responded to the most. From the serious, loyal vizier of the King, to the clumsy doctor in The Little Beggar, Dr Irwin’s facial expressions, body language, and deliberate gaucherie kept the audience charmed and sorely entertained throughout.

 

The King’s vizier and his daughters

The leader of the forty thieves

The tales told by Shahrazad, the witty daughter of the King’s vizier, came to life in the form of elaborate dancing and singing, although some tales passed by without making much of an impression. Most of the numbers sung by the actors (who were not particularly musically trained) were overwhelmed by the choir, and the orchestra was slightly overpowering at times – leaving the impression that the actors needed a little bit more training in enunciation. But if you enjoyed Aladdin, One Thousand and One Nights would have surely satisfied your appetite for oriental/exotic tales.

 

Students from the UK campus tell the tale of Sinbad the sailor

Students from the Ningbo campus present a silent performance of the story of the White Snake

However, the performance lasted slightly too long for a staff and student-led production (running on to more than two hours), and if Shahrazad’s story-telling cue didn’t completely knock your socks off for the first four stories, it would have surely done so for the next three. The production might have been better off with lesser tales and more integrated acting by students from both the UK and Ningbo campuses, but on the plus side, the acting of several newcomers such as Nafisa Tabassum Choudhury are to be praised, and the creative use of limited theatre space should be applauded, particularly when Dr Irwin disappeared from one side of the room and appears on the other side seconds later without losing character (or, er, characters).

As the third major annual theatre production of UNMC, it is safe to say that a fresh face or two wouldn’t hurt. The Malaysian cast was primarily made up of veterans who starred in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Kampung Chekhov, and other small-scaled productions. But perhaps the highlight of One Thousand and One Nights was its celebration of multiculturalism, with global collaborations made possible by both a visionary director and his dedicated cast and crew. It is a production well done considering the immensity of its scale, and if you leave the performance weary, overwhelmed, and longing for samosas, the show keeps a winking, gender-bending suggestion in mind: men follow their hearts, women use their brains.

 

All ends well with Shahrazad and the once broken-hearted King

 

By: Nora Ramli

Photos courtesy of Megat Amirul Jazly

Writer, feminist, theatre enthusiast, but most importantly a purveyor of the importance of performing arts, from dance to spoken word and all in between.

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