Sheherazade’s storytelling is the framing device for the show. Her nocturnal narratives about the King, the source of his mistrust and subsequent daily wife killing keep her sister excitedly awake as a procession of virgins are discreetly beheaded on stage. Sheherazade steps up to the royal plate with a plan to survive – to tell the King such irresistible tales that he’ll have to keep her alive to complete them.
Although the storytelling isn’t always 100% clear through the choreography (read the programme before you sit down) the company are delightful and compelling. The micro-version of Aladdin owes a considerable debt to Disney (despite the Rimsky-Korsakov, you’ll want to sing ‘A Whole New World’ when the magic carpet comes out). There’s no Robin Williams style genie here, but an intriguing two-man-connected-by-one-lycra-arm arrangement. Watch out for the devilishly villainous evil magician in the divine shape of Keiran Stoneley, who totally steals his scenes.
The barnstorming Tale of the Little Beggar which follows sees the acting talent of the young company come hilariously to life.
Act Two is dedicated to Sinbad the Sailor and his encounter with an underwater royal family. Our main criticism of the night goes to the unflattering pink ballet dresses adorning the sea-girls (pink hot pants for the guys probably were unfair too, although they wore them well) but applause to Katherine Kingston who not only makes an expressive and appealing narrative-spinning heroine but doubles up as Sinbad’s saviour of a Sea Princess, dancing to make us forget her frightful frock.
Back in the real world, a new generation of children share Sheherazade’s stories and bring this telling to a close with the King admitting he is won over.
It seems appropriate that the Unicorn Theatre – with its reputation for kid and family friendly shows – was the venue for this one night in London. Ballet Ireland’s Sheherazade feels fresh, with innovative choreography, a keen young cast, and a simple and modern production. It’s a show with wide appeal – beyond the balletomanes – and a welcome alternative to the Nutcrackers and Cinderellas that will start peppering London’s winter season. But to catch this run, you’ll need to go to Ireland for the remainder of their 2011 tour.
*The original Sheherazade, choreographed by Fokine for the Ballet Russes, is a one-act ballet based on the prologue to A Thousand And One Nights. It’s basically an exotic danced orgy followed by mass slaughter and suicide.