EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Classic Arabian folk tales brimming with the modern influence of the Arab Spring sweeping North Africa and the Middle East closed out the 2011 Edinburgh International Festival.
Erotic, tragic, hilarious, romantic, the stories from the cities, souks and courtyards contained in “Alf layla wa-layla” - the Thousand-And-One Nights - played to enthusiastic audiences as the three-week festival drew to a close at the weekend.
Director Tim Supple said it was inevitable that the events of the “Arab Spring” sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa “would become and overwhelming part of our project.”
He said events reflected in the stories “aren’t the first and they won’t be the last in the on-going debate and struggle in the Arabic world to define the nature of law, the nature of rule...
“It was an issue back in the 900s with (the Caliph) al-Rashid, and it’s an issue today with Mubarak, Gaddafi and Assad.”
The cast of the production included actors and musicians from Egypt, Syria and Tunisia. The 16 stories lasting six hours in a mixture of Arabic, French and English ran over two separate performances.
They were adapted by leading Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh, through 2010 from an original Syrian manuscript in Arabic from the 9th century now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, the French national library in Paris.
The Thousand and One Nights is the story of Shahrazad, the beautiful daughter of the Vizier to the Great King Shahrayar. The king, after witnessing his wife in an orgy with her slaves, vows never to trust women again. He takes a virgin every night, and then slays her the following morning.
Shahrazad offers herself to the king in a bid to stop further slaughter, and places her faith in her story-telling ability to capture the king’s interest. He listens fascinated for a thousand-and-one nights until finally he lets her live as his wife and foregoes his murderous ways.
Supple told Reuters he had started the project in 2006. Rehearsals started in the old Moroccan city of Fez last January, and the final 24 actors and musicians selected for the Edinburgh Festival production.
“The stories are about the great dilemmas, the questions of Arab social existence. They focus on the most common aspects of life: sex, marriage, money, faith, relationships between parents and children, the relationship with the law, mistakes and the consequences of those mistakes,” said Supple.
“They are set in the cities, in the souks, in the houses and the courtyards, so in that way they resonate - how could they not.”
Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves make no appearance, however: these stories were never part of the original Thousand and One Nights, Supple noted.
edited by Paul Casciato