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Sunday, 10 January 2010

Marina Warner on the RSC's Arabian Nights

It's been a fantastic season for fairy tale theatre in the UK, as well as the ubiquitous pantomime there have been many exciting productions drawing on fairy tales and folklore. I've been lucky enough to see two of them - The Library Theatre's Grimm Tales (deliciously dark with a great selection of tales) and En Masse Theatre Company's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (enjoyable and inventive - the audience all had to don green lensed glasses when Dorothy and friends reached The Emerald Kingdom!).

One other production I would love to see is the RSC's Arabian Nights. Marina Warner wrote an article about it in yesterday's Guardian. She reviews the production and she also gives us some fascinating tidbits of the history of the Nights on stage, here's just a taste:
'In the theatre especially, the sheer abundance of the plots of the Nights opened up possibilities: the book presented magical twists and turns that intrinsically lent themselves to high-spirited performance and to technical experiment. The history of the Nights on the stage is consequently intertwined with some brilliant early stagecraft for transformation scenes, flying machines, conjuring illusions, innovatory limelight and other effects (in Islington in the 1890s, the genies in Aladdin were called after the new gases, Paraffin, Benzoline and Colza).'
The Arabian Nights is on at the RSC's Courtyard Theatre until the 30th January. And although the glut of seasonal fairy tale shows has now nearly passed there is Andersen's English to look forward to - a new production by Out of Joint, written by novelist Sebastian Barry:
'Celebrated children's writer Hans Christian Andersen arrives, unannounced, for a stay at Gad's Hill Place in the Kent marshes - home to Charles Dickens and his large, charismatic family.

To the lonely and eccentric guest, the members of Dicken's household seem to live a life of unreachable bliss. But with his broken English, Andersen doesn't at first see the tensions in the family: undeclared passions, a son sent to serve in India, and a growing strangeness at the heart of Dickens's marriage.'
This should be interesting, especially as the relationship between the two writers soured after this visit. The production will be touring in Spring 2010.

(ps - If you follow the link to the Guardian to read Marina Warner's article I'd also recommend Margaret Atwood's plea for birds, which made me think of her beautiful essay 'Of Souls as Birds' in Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, in which she explored her love of fairy tales in which people are transformed into birds)


  1. Wonderfully written, Claire - thankyou! I do love Marina Warner's work.