Edinburgh Festival concludes on Arab Spring note

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Artists performing at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, part of the Edinburgh International Festival on 2 September. Photo - TVBomb.co.uk

The 2011 Edinburgh International Festival climaxed on Classic Arabian folk tales inspired by the influence of the Arab Spring that has swept the Middle East and North Africa region since January this year.

“Alf layla wa-layla” – the Thousand-And-One Nights – which is a collection of romantic, erotic, tragic, hilarious, and adventurous stories from the Arabian cities, souks and courtyards?was played to enthusiastic audiences as the three-week festival drew to a close at the weekend.

The Arabian tales moved the audience so much that they became the main event of the last days of the festival. “The events of the ‘Arab Spring’ sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa “became an overwhelming part of our project”, Tim Supple, director of the festival said while speaking to newsmen.

He added that events reflected in the stories “aren’t the first and they won’t be the last in the on-going debate and struggle in the Arabic world to define the nature of law, the nature of rule…

“It was an issue back in the 900s with (the Caliph) al-Rashid, and it’s an issue today with Mubarak, Gaddafi and Assad.”

The Arab-wide cast of actors and musicians came from Egypt,?Syria?and Tunisia, the heart of the Arab Spring. The 16 stories included in the festival came as two separate performances and lasted six hours in a mixture of Arabic, French and English.?Hanan al-Shaykh, They a leading Lebanese writer, adapted the stories?from an original Syrian manuscript in Arabic from the 9th century, now housed in the Bibliotheque Nationale, the French national library in Paris.


The Thousand and One Nights are the stories of Shahrazad, the charming daughter of the Grand Vizier of Great King Shahryar. The king goes on killing his brides rampantly after catching his wife involved in an orgy with her slaves. He weds a virgin every night, and then slays her before dawn.

The beautiful and intelligent daughter of the Grand Vizier offers to marry the king, despite the risks, in a bid to stop further slaughter. She skilfully uses her story-telling ability to fascinate the king and convince him to stop bloodletting. King Shahryar listens to Shahrzad with great interest for a thousand-and-one nights until finally deciding to let her live as his wife and abandons his murderous ways.

Supple disclosed the project started in 2006 with rehearsals taking place in the old Moroccan city of Fez till last January. The selection of the final 24 actors and musicians for the Edinburgh Festival production also took place in Fez.

“The stories are about the great dilemmas, the questions of Arab social existence. They focus on the most common aspects of life: sex, marriage, money, faith, relationships between parents and children, the relationship with the law, mistakes and the consequences of those mistakes,” said Supple.

“They are set in the cities, in the souks, in the houses and the courtyards, so in that way they resonate – how could they not.”

Supple underlined that Sindbad the Sailor and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves were never part of the original Thousand and One Nights, hence did not get included in the festival.

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