Scheherazade brings One Thousand and One Nights to stage at Toronto’s Next Stage Theatre Festival
In Scheherazade, playing as part of the Next Stage Festival, Nobody’s Business Theatre takes on the task of retelling the One Thousand and One Nights (also known as Arabian Nights) with their own modern spin. While such reimaginings are common, this particular tale hasn’t been done as often as, say, any play by Shakespeare, or novel by Dickens, or story from the Christian bible. I have read One Thousand and One Nights but I don’t think I’ve seen any retelling of it on stage or screen since I watched (and rewatched and rewatched again) the 1989 Ross Petty Aladdin when I was a child.
The Nobody’s Business production, while only ninety minutes long, is still wonderfully faithful to the One Thousand and One Nights technique of layering narratives over narratives. There is the framing story, of how Scheherazade amuses her murderous husband, the King, with her storytelling night after night so he won’t cut off her head and marry a new woman (and then summarily kill her as well.) There are the stories that Scheherazade tells, and there are also back stories to the current situation.
The cast of actors is large and the cast of characters is larger still, and there’s a lot of fun to be had as people twirl around the stage, putting on and discarding different identities – and lots of their clothing as well. If you like to see attractive people in their underwear, this play has that in spades.
I do have to mention that there needs to be a big trigger warning for rape “humour” attached to this show. It took me a long while to feel comfortable again after a scene where a woman rapes two men, which is, apparently, funny. It wasn’t the only scene where dark things happen but it was the only one where an act of sexual assault was portrayed as comedic. Eventually I was able to relax and enjoy the show again, but I found it very jarring to have to deal with. Later on there is another very disturbing sexual situation, but it was played as sinister and worked very well.
There were also a couple of plot holes, which is understandable given the number of different plots at play, and they were ultimately pretty forgivable. This is a good show with some genuinely funny moments, very amusing situations, and a lot of energy in the writing, the direction and the cast. I would love to recommend it, but there was that one scene. And I just can’t find rape funny, no matter the gender of who’s doing it to whom.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for all shows are $15 for performances on the Main Stage and in the Studio and $10 for performances in the Ante-chamber
- Showtimes and ticket information for Scheherazade are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
Photo of Morgan Norwich and Johnnie Walker by Tanja Tiziana.