On a beautiful evening at the Al Majaz Amphitheatre, just a hint of a breeze taking the sting out of the day, Sharjah launched its year as Unesco World Book Capital with a lively, all-action performance of 1001 Nights: The Last Chapter.
See more photos from the energetic and colourful performance in our gallery above.
It was a bold statement of intent – if the rest of the year is anything like as ambitious and full of joy as this performance, book lovers will have plenty to smile about. There is a 51-piece orchestra, enormous screens projecting stunning land- and seascapes, and some 80 surround-sound speakers. It is a truly immersive experience, although the special effects must compete for your attention with a troupe of acrobats performing vertiginous tricks and flips throughout. A nice conundrum for the audience to have.
This is not a straightforward adaption of One Thousand and One Nights. Instead, we meet Scheherazade near the end of her life. The great storyteller has called her three children – Fayrouz, Kader and Amin – to her side, in order to send each of them on a mission to a faraway land to seek out a precious object. It is an innovative set-up that allows the audience to enjoy three entirely different adventures: the first in a magical garden, the second on a rain-battered island and the third in a desert, which hides an enchanted library.
Each adventure has its own unique feel. The choreography in the garden is understated, the actors gliding through the night sky on harnesses, whirling and twirling to the sound of soft strings and woodwind.
Things get more hostile on the island, where one of Scheherazade’s sons is confronted by an army of ninja-type characters he must fight off. This is one of the finest set-pieces of the night, a prolonged battle, involving flying kicks and tumbles, accompanied by jagged drumming.
But the highlight, surely, is the final adventure, which brings a welcome sense of the absurd to proceedings. There are riddles to be solved, actors spinning this way and that, and acrobats plunging from great heights, before bouncing back off a trampoline hidden in the floor. Great fun.
Finally, Scheherazade’s children return with their treasure – a pot of ink, a feather and a book – and their mother reminds them that, “The most beautiful book is the one yet to be written.” As Sharjah sets out on its own literary adventure this year, there could hardly be a more fitting message.
1001 Nights: The Last Chapter is on at the Al Majaz Amphitheatre, Sharjah, until Saturday, April 27. Tickets are available from Dh135 at www.sharjah.platinumlist.net