Full of Eastern promise

27th December 1996 at 00:00
TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS

Tron Theatre, Glasgow until January 4

Brian Hayward gives 1001 reasons to enjoy Tron Theatre's Arabian Nights

The curved prow and stern of the fishing boat gently rise and fall with the ripples of the current in the early morning light, the fisherman and his wife draw in the net and, to their - and our - surprise, draw in . . . well, something magical.

But every bit as magical is the realisation that all we are seeing, on the bare Tron stage, is two actors standing in a piece of cloth, held at each end by two other actors, in careful lighting. How they manage to smuggle their "catch" on to the stage is their business.

Happily, their business is pure theatre, and Communicado has been at it for 13 profitable years. It is pure theatre (technically known as "Poor Theatre") because the essential dramatic experience, the engagement of the director's and spectator's imagination, has been deliberately stripped of all its trimmings.

At a guess, you could pack this production of Tales of the Arabian Nights into a couple of suitcases. Less easy to parcel up is the theatre vision that Gerry Mulgrew brings to the writing and directing of these exotic tales, for a cast and orchestra of only six, including the camel.

He needs actors willing to take risks, willing to lay their bodies on the line. People like the dancer and actor Malcolm Shields, who can do more things in rigor mortis than most actors could do on a trampoline, who can shrink into a teapot and with no more than a loin cloth, pass muster as an archaeopteryx.

Steve Kettley is another Communicado regular, indispensable as company musician, and taking his chances with the speaking parts. Veronica Leer, as luck would have it, does an exquisite belly-dance, and is a delightfully impish Sharazad, but, above all, this is a company production. At one point, five of them, with three pieces of cloth and an empty holdall, stage a chase through a crowded Persian market.

This kind of theatre makes great demands on its creators, and Gerry Mulgrew owes much to his design team: Karen Tennent, who created these brief epistles of clothes and property, and particularly Stewart Steel, of the Tron lighting box. As resident technician, he has been able to use his local knowledge to brilliant effect.

It can be no accident that Gerry Mulgrew chooses to lead us through Princess Sharazad's beguiling and deceitful stories with the constant twist and turn of deception of his stagecraft. As King Shazaman, the listener for a thousand and one nights, is trapped in a tower of stories within stories, so Mulgrew draws his audience to levels of mounting credulity.

Suspend your disbelief, hang it on the back of your seat, and the Giant Roc's egg really does fall from the sky, and Sinbad really does fly over our heads, hanging on to the bird's claws. If theatre didn't exist, people like Gerry Mulgrew would have to invent it.

The Tron specialises in off-beat Christmas shows, and this is hardly an exception. Nevertheless, the audience - mostly aged between 5 and 85 - stayed with it every moment, laughed a lot and frequently applauded. Because it is quality, it works at every level, even, I imagine, for the most scornful of teenage video freaks.

Even they, I hope, would admire these weavers of dreams. Communicado ends as magically as it began, travelling forever towards us through the desert, the veiled Princess riding on the camel, the others trudging beside, carried forward by the melodious charm of the flute.

All done without moving from the spot, with just a muslin curtain, and a little something called "theatre".

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