The Blue Elephant Theatre has been made up to look like a corner of exotic Arabia, but the effect is unconvincing. Colourful faux-eastern patterns cover the floor, curtains and star-shaped ornaments give the impression of a foreign land without being specific enough to put the action in a solid place.

True to the original, the performance is partly episodic in that the heroine Scheherazade (played by Kate Millest) must keep telling stories which are then enacted by the cast. As such, there is plenty of multi-rolling, but not all the characters are clearly defined and some bleed into one another. Some of the characters are given dodgy accents or a weird physical characteristic to distinguish them from the rest and this sometimes feels 'tacked on'.

Physical comedy is great in this piece. The stories often involve animals and the resulting characterisation of such critters provides the best gags of the night. James Weal's monkey prince and crafty crab were wonderful combinations of physical truth and knowing humour. The ensemble work well when creating a monster together; the Pythonesque three-headed genie gave the show an element of real magic.

Musician George Mckenzie-Lowe creates an aural backdrop to the action and at points adds punctuation to the humour, though more could have been made of the relationship between the music and the actors.

Hammer and Tongs Theatre have decided to pursue the funny side of the stories – inserting jokes wherever they can, regardless of whether they work or not – sometimes to the exclusion of other vital theatrical elements. The main characters of the king and Scheherazade (or 'Shaz' as her friends call her) aren't fully developed so his change of heart at the end seems like a formality imposed by the story rather than a resolution that is reached organically.

Arabian Nights is only an hour long, but not much variety has been packed into such a tight running time. Once halfway into the show, they've shown most of their tricks so it's hard to be surprised by how the next half unfolds. That said, the stories are told engagingly and the threat of death for the heroine is very real. They are well picked, too: we are treated to talking goats, arrogant genies and flying horses. The tales Scheherazade tells are unpredictable and full of magic and intrigue.

The short running time and the recurring habit of some actors to fall back on an 'actor' voice gives Arabian Nights the overall feeling of a student production that hasn't developed past exam day. While it is a fun hour and has good, if a little wavering, performances from the cast, Arabian Nights is a little simplistic and not yet honed to a professional level.

Arabian Nights, at Blue Elephant Theatre

Arabian Nights is the timeless tale of a woman married to a king with an addiction to executing his wives. To save her life and win his heart, she tells him stories. Hammer and Tongs Theatre have condensed the classic while staying true to its heart. At the Blue Elephant Theatre. 

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