REVIEW: Sinbad The Sailor, Theatre Royal Stratford East ✭✭✭

Book tickets to Sinbad The Sailor at Theatre Royal Straford East
Marianna Neofitou, Julian Capolei, Gabby Wong and Ben Goffeen in Sinbad The Sailor.

Sinbad The Sailor
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Wednesday, 14th December 2016
3 Stars
Book Tickets to Sinbad the Sailor

What wonderful stories are the compendium of narratives that have come down to us in the West as ‘The Thousand And One Nights’, and of all the characters in them, how marvellously exciting are the best known: Ali Baba; Aladdin; and… Sinbad.  Of these, the latter had the good luck to be awarded by the teller of those magical tales, the ever-inventive Sheherazade, the ideal format for creating a long-running franchise: the voyage of adventure!  Surely, only the intrepid crew of the Starship Enterprise is more travelled than him.  ‘The Arabian Nights’ give him seven journeys, but these almost pale into insignificance in the face of the torrent of subsequent ‘sequels’ that have been launched by any number of developers, not least in the 20th and 21st century in countless filmed and televised versions.

Quite which of those tales may or may not have been plundered to make this latest offering, it is difficult to say.  This script emerges from the pen of Paul Sirett, who here also writes lyrics to the many songs of the show, with more lyrics and the music from Wayne Nunes and Perry Melius.  They have a cast of 12 to work with, and everyone gets at least one fully developed character to play.  There are even two heroes, with Sinbadda (Gabby Wong) popping up (very occasionally) as the sister of the lead, in a part that is so important and so under-written that it will probably remind those of a certain vintage of Janet Webb’s appearances on ‘The Morecambe and Wise Show’ (doubtless the rest of her part ended up on the Literary Department’s floor: but by the time you get to the big ‘Girl Power’ number near the end, you might expect it to contain the immortal words, ‘Thank you for watching me and my little show’).

Book tickets to Sinbad The Sailor at Theatre Royal Straford East
Michael Bertenshaw, Gabby Wong, Johny Amobi, Marianna Neofitou in Sinbad the Sailor.

Nonetheless, pride of place still goes to the charming title figure, who is played by the jolly Julian Capolei, and he rejoices in a help-mate, the canny monkey Funky (a puppet manipulated and voiced by Gemma Salter); we have two sets of villains: one, the wicked courtier, Prince Naw-Ze Uzz (Michael Bertenshaw, who really knows how to work the Stratford audience); and then, Captain Green Beard (a rather camp Alim Jayda) and his side-kick, the handsomely trumpet-voiced Clanker (Josephine Melville); there is a dame, the Nurse (in the form of the magisterially voiced Johnny Amobi, who runs a nice line in getting the audience up on stage to embarrass themselves amusingly and with abundant good nature); there is a Principal Girl in the form of the Princess (plucky Marianna Neofitou), her doting widowed father is the Sultan (Ben Goffe); and supernatural assistance (of the traditionally limited kind) is on hand from lovely Green Genie Uz (the brilliant comedienne with a more than comely set of pipes, Rina Fatania).  And there are other roles (many) played by members of the company.

The plot here is that the Princess will be given in marriage to whomsoever brings back to The Palace the Golden Casket from an island where dwell numerous difficulties, including a nine-headed monster and psychedelic bananas.  Everything kicks off with some nifty animations by Pete Bishop and Kevin Baldwin, pitching the whole show clearly and pointedly at The Young (who from then on watch with alert attention throughout!).  The Theatre Royal is not London’s richest stage, but here it makes a little go a long way, complete with nicely used revolve and some piles of rostra, and lovely lighting by the expert David Plater, all in a very, very brisk production by Artistic Director Kerry Michael.  The costumes also are as splendid as the budget will allow.  We have Harriet Barsby and Jenny Tiramani to thank for the look of the production.  There is some straightforward movement by Kamilah Beckles.  Robert Hyman is the Music Director, and while he keeps everything tidily together, and clearly enthuses over the sound his small but very effective band produces, Sound designer Andrew Johnson favours the pit so much that whole swathes of lyrics disappear into the ricocheting pop din.  One would think that it should be fairly easy just to turn the band’s sound down a tad.  The actors and audience would be very grateful.

Book tickets to Sinbad The Sailor at Theatre Royal Straford East
Alim Jayda and Josephine Melville in Sinbad The Sailor

Rather less easily solved are the problems with the script, which tends to pile up incidents without necessarily structuring their constituent elements into any coherent or logical whole.  For instance, the show begins with the wicked pirates introducing themselves to us, and it is far from clear why they enjoy that privilege.  Michael does what he can to keep everything moving as quickly as possible so we don’t dwell on such awkwardnesses, but they do proliferate.  A lot of the script is ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ causing many expositional scenes to becomes wordy and static and to sap away the energy the director is constantly trying to instil into affairs.  The action of the first act seems to culminate at the point of departure for the dangerous island where lies the casket,…. but it doesn’t.  There’s a good while more to go, before the break finally arrives.

Nevertheless, there is some great fight arrangement from Ian McCracken, a lovely tap dance by Phillip Michael Thomas and some stunning illusions from Scott Penrose (I was sitting in the fifth row, and I have NO IDEA how they were done!).  All in all, the show has an honest, earthy feel to it, and serves up something new, while offering nearly all the ‘traditional’ ingredients (bar the jungle bake-off scene, which I was sooo looking forward to, yet which did not materialise).  Some people attending probably only ever go to the theatre to see the Christmas panto, and this certainly doesn’t disappoint.  Some attending may even by inspired to go and read up on the beautiful stories whence the title figure springs.  And some will merely be grateful that this provides two and a half hours in which they do not have to try to entertain their children: the show will do that for them.

Until 21 January 2016

Images – Sharron Wallace


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