Theatre

The Arabian Nights

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

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Neil Cooper, Four stars

DOWN at the very common market the dogs are howling in Suhayla El-Bushra's new family friendly take on the classic Middle Eastern story-book. As brought to life by Ross MacKay's puppets in Joe Douglas' handsomely realised production, the two dogs become a framing device for a Russian doll of a show, in which stories within stories lead to ongoing enlightenment.

Stories, alas, are banned by rule of the Sultan, a bureaucratic NIMBY, who has young Scheherazade's yarn-spinning mum and her fellow stall-holders locked up. Scheherazade proves herself a chip off the old block by blagging her way into the palace, where she regales the Sultan with some shaggy dog stories of her own.

Out of Scheherazade's fantastical imagination pop up a series of universally familiar figures, from Aladdin to Sinbad and a story-book of fellow travellers made flesh in a series of comic turns from Douglas' energetic ten-strong cast. As Rehanna MacDonald's sparky Scheherazade lulls Nicholas Karimi's Sultan into facing up to his own back-catalogue, they are bound, as it were, by a series of flatulent faux pas'. The dogs use their farts as weapons, the Sultan is a bum-faced tyrant, and even Ali Baba is driven by his late-night experiments with dung.

Beyond its toilet humour, El-Bushra's script is laced with pop-savvy smarts in a rapid-fire fantasia that joins the dots to illustrate how everything real or imagined connects up to create a global village of a play. The metaphor of the multi-cultural melee turned to rotting fruit once everyone’s been incarcerated isn't hard to spot in the current climate. As Tarek Merchant's Middle Eastern jazz tinged score gives way to some jaunty song and dance routines, it reveals the power of stories – everybody's stories - to change the world.