The Arabian Nights is at once an authentic collection of eastern tales and also an organic and still evolving expression of how the west perceives the east. The stories each have their own story; Ali Baba was written by a Frenchman in the 18th Century, translated into Arabic and then re-translated into English in the 19th Century as an ‘original’ Arabian Nights story.
There’s the thing. You can lose yourself in story within story. You can become immersed in a world of wonder, a dream within a dream, only to wake up and then wonder if you are indeed awake or still dreaming.
I wanted to create a radio version of this book because I believe it to be one of the most extraordinary books ever written. Yet fiendishly difficult to adapt. Glen Neath was always the only choice for creating the adaptation because of the wit, the playfulness and the intelligence of his writing. Like many who have published or adapted these stories, we have added something as well as retelling the tales. The new frame story, Ata Madri’s story, is a reflection of the contemporary nature of the tales, and also of the complex interrelation of eastern and western identity.
Such complexity also necessitated a sound treatment that works like a magic carpet, transporting the audience through time and place with gentleness and seamless flow. It is said that you can’t read the whole of The Nights without dying; Alisdair has suggested that the same might be true of creating the sound design for them.
There are two episodes of one hour each which barely scratch the surface of the tales so do go back to the book and read more.
Lastly, a mention for academic and novelist, Robert Irwin, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for so inspiring me when I first came across his work many years ago. If you’re interested in the Nights, read his excellent Companion book but if you just want to read a brilliant and funny novel in this storytelling tradition, go for The Arabian Nightmare. Or, indeed, anything else written by him.
Both episodes are available to hear on BBC iPlayer.
THE ARABIAN NIGHTS ADAPTED BY GLEN NEATH
THE NARRATOR – NADIM SAWALHA
MADRI – INDIRA VARMA
CLIVE, KING YUNAN – EWAN BAILEY
TAXI DRIVER – NAYEF RASHED
ALI BABA, LAME YOUNG MAN – MUZZ KHAN
ALI BABA’S WIFE, MOTHER – NOA BODNER
CASSIM, BLIND BEGGAR – NOOF MCEWAN
CASSIM’S WIFE, TAILOR’S WIFE – ALYSSA KYRIA
MARJANEH, YOUNG WOMAN – LAURA HANNA
COBBLER, VIZIER, CHRISTIAN – NIALL ASHDOWN
ROBBER, ALI ZUM – WALEED ELGADI
CAPTAIN, BARBER – ALEXEI SAYLE
FISHERMAN, SHOPKEEPER, BAKBAK – NABIL ELOUAHABI
DEMON, PROFESSOR, AL-ASHAR – STEWART SCUDAMORE
SAGE DUBAN, CALIPH – RENU SETNA
KING OF THE CITY, TAILOR – BHASKER PATEL
YOUNG MAN, BAKBOOK – AMIR EL-MASRY
EVIL WIFE, JUDGE’S DAUGHTER – SHARLIT DEYZAC
OTHER PARTS WERE PLAYED BY MEMBERS OF THE COMPANY
ASSISTANT PRODUCER, ROBBIE MACINNES
MUSIC BY MICHAEL WARD WITH PETER ROPHONE AND DAVE LEWIN
SOUND DESIGN BY ALISDAIR MCGREGOR
PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY BOZ TEMPLE-MORRIS