A reworking of Arabian Nights fails to shed much light on the Middle East crisis
Adaptations of the Arabian Nights seem to be flavour of the month theatre-wise, with this version by the Metta Theatre company touring as another two have opened at the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester and at London's Tricycle Theatre.
While those shows are firmly directed at the seasonal audience, this production is an adaption of six of the stories by Arab writers and used as a vehicle to comment obliquely or directly on the so-called Arab Spring.
That's evident from the outset as the Tale Of Sinbad And The Old Goat is contemporised by Iraqi writer Hassan Abdulrazzak into a bitter commentary on the hijacking of a revolution.
Elsewhere, there's a mordant satire on the obscene Israeli wall in The Tale Of The Two Djinnis And The Wall by Palestinan writer Raja Sheadehand and an ingenious use of video and social media in Tania El Khoury's The Tale Of The Dictaor's Wife. In it, an Imelda Marcos-like protagonist rules over a country in shoe-throwing revolt as she shops on an interactive screen for fuck-me heels while communicating with increasing desperation on Twitter.
The concluding Tale Of The Lady Of Damascus foregrounds youth on the streets of the Syrian capital demanding "regime change."
The action is framed by the conventional device of Sharazad entertaining her new husband Shahrayar with a story or face execution but with the twist that at each tale's conclusion it's the audience who are asked to decide whether she can tell another tale and survive.
It's a generally unsuccessful attempt to break down the theatre's fourth wall - and greeted occasionally with an uncomfortable silence before a sole voice pipes assent from the front row - which isn't the only misjudgement the production makes.
While there's no doubting the sincerity of director-"dramaturg" Poppy Burton-Morgan or the cast of Dina Mouwasi, Natalie Dew and Lahcen Razzougui in their sometimes inaudible account of the current turbulence in north Africa and the Middle East, it seems that the play's writers - intentionally? - ignore the elephant in the room.
What is singularly absent from their agendas is any reference to neoimperialist intentions in the region and Arab Nights seems overtaken by events in consequence.
The day I saw the show was shortly after yet another brutal assault on Gaza by Israel as western powers looked on.
The longer this play progressed, the more distant seemed those realities on the ground, who's responsible for them and how they should be addressed within and beyond the theatre space.
Tours until December 13. Details: www.mettatheatre.co.uk.