Sheherezade / by Jeni Whittaker
Cast in order of appearance:
1ST GUARD m
2ND GUARD m
PALACE SERVANTS as many as you like including:
SERVANT 1 m or f
SERVANT 2 m or f
CALIPH SHAHRYAR m
SARLIM m / SALEEM m [but it would be interesting to have one or both of these played by girls]
JUDGES 1,2,3,4 & 5 m or f
2nd MOOR m or f
MOOR m or f
1ST SAILOR m
2ND SAILOR m
A NUMBER OF GALLEY SLAVES m or f
GENIE, THUNDERING THUNDERER m or f
GRAND CALIPH m
VIZIER m or f
EMIR m or f
GUARD m or f
ALI BABA m
1ST, 2ND, 3RD, 4TH, 5TH, 6TH & 7TH THIEVES [all the thieves can be played as male or female]
+as many other judges, servants and thieves as desired.
The play therefore has 13 male parts [12 can be doubled], 7 female and a large number of parts which can be played by either sex. Minimum number of cast with doubling between the stories = 20ish [41 speaking parts]
Note that Sheherezade, Dunyazade and Caliph Shahryar cannot be doubled.
Setting requires a section of the stage which is separated by light, if by no other means, for Sheherezade, Dunyazade and the Caliph during the storytelling.
Staging should be of the simplest, using mime or the most basic props, such as canes, representational rather than fully realised, to allow for swift changes of location.
At present about 45 minutes long, this play is designed to have other stories added, so that it can be as long or as short as required as you mix and match the stories to your cast requirements. Watch for future news of the additions!
Sample Pages from the script
A long fanfare, ridiculously over the top. Servants enter, laying cushions in front of the Caliph Shahryar's feet As he progresses, they run back and pick up those cushions he has already stepped on, piling them up in the storytelling area of the stage, as a throne on which to lounge. One servant carries a huge hookah, another a lavish feather fan, yet another sprays the air with scent from a huge bottle. if possible, add tumblers, dancers, carriers of grapes etc. The Caliph pauses still a good distance away from the girls in exaggerated astonishment. With him, at the same time, all his retinue freeze. Soon, he moves towards the girls and the whole retinue unfreezes. He flaps them into silence, irritated They freeze again - poses of suspicion and gossipy surprise. In this silence, the two girls kneel, and touch their fingers to their foreheads and then chests in obeisance. The guards drop to one side.
The young ladies you asked for, Your Worshipfulness.
Just as you asked, Your Highness - without a hair of their heads harmed.
There had better not be. Rise up, my dears. Let me see you. [He walks round them, looking them up and down and nodding approvingly.] Very nice. [To the Guards.] Very good. You have done well. And to think they were in our palace all the time. Under our very noses, as it were. Well,well. [To the followers.] It seems our search is over. We have found our next two wives. [All unfreeze and make exaggerated sounds and gestures of approval.] But don't tell the Vizier, mind! [They all shake their heads and titter.] Somehow, I don't think he'll be quite as pleased as we are! [Titter again - louder.] [Aggressively and suddenly.] SO WHAT ARE WE NOT GOING TO DO? ... [There is a shocked silence.] WELL?? [Heads turn to each other in query.] [Even louder.] WELL??!!
SERVANT 1 in a tiny shaky voice
We're not going to... [He clears his throat nervously.] ... umm ... t-t-tell...
The Vizier ... their father... no ... we're not, are we?
ALL rather shakily
No. We're not.
So now leave me. Go on ... Get out. [The retinue exit. As the two girls turn to leave as well, with the guards.] Not you, my dears. Stay. Dunyazade, you are indeed as fair as they say. Tomorrow, you shall be my wife.
You are too kind.
But for now - leave me alone with your sister. Guards - take her out and keep a good watch on her. [Pause. Left alone with Sheherezade, the Caliph is lost in contemplation.] So you are Sheherezade. The rumours did not lie. You are indeed beautiful. From this moment, [He puts a ring on her finger] - you are my latest wife.
SHEH gasping a little
Your Highness does me too much honour.
Yes, tonight you are my bride, but in the morning, when the sun lightens the sky, you will die like all my other brides before you.
What of him? He cannot save you. That is why I had you picked up when and where you - and your father - would have least expected it. Now you are married there is little he can do. He must accept his Lord's will since it is so clearly the will of Allah also.
Allah is indeed merciful. His will be done.
I am glad you are pious. It is obvious you are well brought up. Mind you, I'd expect nothing else from a fine man like your father. It's a shame, really, but - no ...sadly I fear you would not be faithful.
How could you know that, my lord?
It is a fact. A woman has a thousand excellent qualities - but fidelity is not one of them. My first wife betrayed me. I vowed after her death that none would be given the chance to do so again. Thus, every girl I have married has died the following morning.
But, my Lord...
Hush girl. Would you question my judgement? I count myself the most fortunate of men for I have learned the secret of a happy marriage: brevity and variety. You will be my one hundredth wife and tomorrow, your sister will be the one hundred and first.
Do not grieve for me, Jaydar. Allah will welcome me. I have only one regret in leaving this life - and that is my fear for you.
Don't worry about me, father.[Rather doubtful.] I'll learn to look after myself.
Listen to me. I have tried to be fair to you all and so I have drawn up a will. In it I have left a quarter of my money to each of you boys and to your mother. And so there can be no mistake I'm going to a judge to make sure it is all written down properly. He puts an arm round Jaydar's shoulders and the two leave together.
Shortly after, Omar died, content with the knowledge that he had arranged everything as carefully and as fairly as possible. But the two eldest were not happy...
It's not fair!
There must be something we can do!
Yes, but what? Father and that old judge got it all sewn up between them.
But that old judge was a terrible fuddy-duddy. We could always find another?
Yes! Take the will to another judge and persuade him to find a loophole....
SAR rubbing his fingers together
Money! There's not a lot that judges won't do for money! They're a corrupt lot!
The judges have taken up positions around the stage. They are visited in turn.
So, the long and the short of it is - after many weeks of my precious time spent on this document...
And our precious money.
As I was saying .... after many weeks' research and careful examination... my findings are ...
Get on with it!
By and large ... taking into account the whys and wherefores... in short...
It is perfectly in order.
Your father's will is - perfectly in order.
It is perfectly legal. There is not a hole to be found in it - not anywhere.
What's the good of that? You were supposed to find that the will was a forgery!
Oh and the whole thing took a lot longer than I'd first estimated - so that will be 800 dinars.
On top of what we gave you? That's criminal!
No. What you were suggesting was criminal. 600 dinars... [He puts his hand out for the money. Sarlim slaps it into his palm.]
Bah! [They move over to another judge.]
This has been an interesting document, very. I have enjoyed working through it. Such precise wording! Such delightful phrasing! I wish I had written it myself.
So, what are you saying?
That it is perfectly legal. In fact, it is so water-tight that the cleverest person in all the land would not find a loophole.
You were supposed to find out that Father was mad when he wrote it.
No one who was mad could have come up with such a perfect document.
Sorry! But that's the way it is. 800 dinars please.
The brothers move to stand amongst a grouping of judges.
Your father was sane...
... a man of wisdom.
If only all fathers were so careful of their family.
The document is... legal
... a masterpiece.
If only all wills were so precisely worded.
That will be ninety dinars
Two thousand and fifty dinars please.
All stick their hands out for money and freeze. The two brothers slap money in each palm. The Judges leave.
SAR & SAL
So did the good son, Jaydar, come back to his family? Did he make his fortune?
It would take too long, Sire. I really must sleep now. And I need time to pray, for after all this is my last night on earth. Dunyazade?
DUNY Yes, sister?
SHEH beginning to leave
Please help me prepare for the night. I want to please my new husband. Will you do my hair for me? And help make me beautiful? [She exits.]
Of course I will.
DAL calling after her
You are already beautiful, Sheherezade. And your story has pleased me mightily. But you can't leave it there! I need to know the end.
My sister needs sleep. Creativity is demanding and the imagination cannot run on exhaustion. It needs to be replenished by food and drink and rest.
What are you saying? That I will never know the end of the story? For after this night, as you know, she must die.
Well then, that's clear. You will never know the end.
You can carry it on tomorrow. You have heard all your sister's stories.
Alas. I don't have my sister's way with words. And she has such a fund of tales that they all become jumbled in my head. I might muddle it up with Sinbad, or Aladdin. No, I'm sorry. Only Sheherezade can finish the story. [A pause. She waits.]
CAL dismisses her irritably
Go. Go, go, go, go, go. Leave me. [Dunyazade exits] [lie calls.] Servants. Bring me food, wine, sherbets and my hookah. I need to think. [Enter very sleepy servants, rubbing eyes etc.] Look sharp! What's all this? Readiness at all times. That's the palace motto. AT ALL TIMES! D'you hear me?
Yes, my lord.
Well? Where's my food? My wine? My hookah? I need to think.
Beg pardon, sire, we thought - since it was your wedding night ...
Every night is my wedding night!
Yes, sire, and normally ... you're ... well ... too busy ...
You're otherwise engaged, Sire. You don't normally need sustenance. And won't your hookah ... cause ... um ... you to... sleep? Rather than... ?
My hookah helps me to think, you cretin. It brings calm rationality to my thought processes. That's all it does. Now fetch it. And sherbet. And wine.
Yes, sire. At once. [He gestures and servants scurry off and return with a plate of sherbet, a large hookah and a glass and carafe of wine while Servants 1 & 2 re-arrange the Caliph's cushions.] There, sire.That should be more comfortable. May I ask where your bride is? Would she not like some wine too?
CAL My wife is sleeping.
ALL SERVANTS astonished
She is quite worn out.
ALL SERVANTS exchanging knowing and satisfied looks
That is all to the good then, Sire. We won't disturb her. Should we come at the usual time to take her to her execution?
CAL who is comfortably drawing on his hookah, sitting crosslegged on
his pile of cushions, starts visibly
What's that? Execution? Dammit! Darn the woman! See what she's done to me already.
A Rhythmic chanting begins. A number of slaves, Jaydar amongst them, fake up rowing positions, making the outline of a boat. The rhythm is enhanced by the use of canes which also become oars, mast etc.
We work all day we work all night,through burning sun and pale moonlight Hey - oh, oh hey hey oh [repeat under next line.]
CAPTAIN & SAILORS
Work you landlubbers work
No food to eat and nought to drink, we cannot speak, we cannot think Hey-oh, oh hey hey-oh [repeat under next line.]
CAPTAIN & SAILORS
Work you landlubbers work.
The whip falls hard, the whip falls fast, we dream of sleep, we cannot last Hey oh, oh hey hey oh
This is all that we have left, of home and families bereft Nothing have we any more save sorrow and the ocean's roar.
Hey oh, oh hey hey oh, Hey oh, oh hey hey oh Hey.
[This last sound is like a sigh, the previous `hey oh' s having got softer and softer. The slaves freeze in attitudes of pain. The two sailors lift Jaydar from his position in the 'boat'.]
Now you, young fellow-me-lad, have earned promotion. What would you give for a life of ease?
JAY weakly, swaying between the sailors
Anything. I'd give anything.
But what have you got to offer?
Nothing. That's what. He ain't got nothing but the clothes he stands up in.
And he wouldn't be standing if we let go, would he? [They let him go but catch him before he falls.]
Out of the kindness of my heart, I will let you rest ... [Brief pause Shouts ] ... ON A DESERT ISLAND, so small that you can walk round it in a minute and a half.
So dry that not a puddle of water relieves the burning sand.
So barren that nothing grows there, not even one blade of grass.
Then what will I eat and drink? How will I survive?
You won't. Not for long. But you will have rest - plenty of it. A long, long ...
...SLEEEEPP!! [With a sudden push, they propel Jaydar to the front; Here he stands swaying slightly, whilst behind him, in slow motion, the cast get up and leave, holding the boat formation. Their `Hey--ohs' get softer and softer. When there is silence, Jaydar sinks to the ground in despair.]
SHEH very gently
Poor Jaydar. What was to become of him now?
Yes, what? You can't leave him like that... Dunyazade, you promised. You promised that your sister was going to make Jaydar into a Caliph, just like me!
DUNY a little anxious
Well, who knows? You must be patient. Both of you.
Now, don't start getting uppity with me...
Patience, gracious lord. Jaydar is alive; things could be worse.
Yes, lord. To be dead is worse. Remember that, won't you? Life is good.
CALIPH looking suspicious
Are you insinuating... ?
SHEH hurriedly interrupting
Jaydar watched the ship until it was a speck on the horizon and then over the rim it dropped and there was nothing to see except the endless blue stretch of the ocean and nothing to hear except its ceaseless murmur. He knelt down to beg mercy from Allah himself, when he felt a shadow fall on him....
JAY looking up from his kneeling position
Good heavens! A story so good that I forgot to eat, drink and sleep! That's some story! [Turning to the Servants abruptly.] Isn't it, buffoons?
ALL SERVANTS quailing and taking a step back
Yes, your majesty.
And she knows more of these stories, you said?
I've never been so entertained in my life. [To servants, nastily.] Why couldn't you manage that, eh? [Servants take another step backwards, still in a cluster.] All right. I've decided to change the rules. I'll decide when Sheherezade will die - and it will be when I'm tired of her stories. All right? [To Servants.] All right? So get out. And I'll call when I want you. GET OUT. [The Servants scuttle to the edge of the stage, turn and look over their shoulders, between legs, and so on - group suspicion shape, pause and exit.] [cosily] Now... Where were we?
I think you might enjoy the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
L It sounds action-packed. Go on.
Once upon a time, there were two brothers. The elder brother, Kassim, had married a wealthy wife and was consequently a man of substance in the town. The younger, Ali Baba, had married for love. He and his wife were very poor, eking out a bare living from the sale of firewood that Ali Baba gathered every day in the forest.Well, one dayAli Baba had just arrived in the forest when he heard a sound...
Sound of thundering hooves in the distance, corning nearer and nearer, then halting. Frightened, Ali Baba hides himself but remains visible to the audience.
Company, halt! Dismount, men, and search around. We don't want to be spied upon, do we now?
Ali Baba shrinks back, knees shaking Abdullah and the thieves enter. They search everywhere including comically ridiculous places. Abdullah stands to one side of the playing area where the 'cave mouth' now is.
What shall we do with any spies we find, boss?
Why, kill them of course. What else? We don't want someone finding our hideyhole, do we? Where we've stored all our treasure for the last few years?
Right then. So search. Every corner. Every nook and cranny. And... [Picking out someone sitting in the audience.]... especially there. [A thief enters the audience and stares very hard at the 'offender'. Don't pick the vulnerable!] Well?
What can we take today, boss?
My wife's after me for a fur coat.
And we could do with a swimming-pool now the weather's improving.
I saw a gold Rolls Royce in the showroom the other day.
And I'm being nagged for a sporty little car. White, she said she'd like.
Shut up. You can have what you want. Now, is the coast clear?
Then, here goes. [He faces the cave door.] Open Sesame. [The cavern opens. The treasure is off-stage, but a light in the wings, bright enough for the thieves to step back, dazzled, represents it.] Right, men. In you go and load up. Take as much as you can carry. There's plenty and to spare. [They enter the cave.]
Ali Baba watched from his hiding place as the thieves loaded themselves with glittering gold and jewels, closed the cave with a loud command...
...and galloped off once more. Only when he was sure that there was no one left, did Ali Baba creep out from his hiding-place and approach the cavern.
All Baba tiptoes nervously to the cavern and clears his throat tentatively.
ALI in a tiny voice
Open Sesame. [Pause.Nothing happens. Louder.] Oh well, I didn't really expect anything. It's a silly phrase anyway. I mean to say - why Sesame? Open, Sesame? It might as well be... [He is interrupted by the cave opening. He jumps and peers nervously in.] Oh well, no harm in looking, I don't suppose. I could just take a few of those gold pieces. I wouldn't be greedy. [Darts in and returns with a handful of coins, which he thrusts, looking guilty, into a pocket.] There are so many there, I don't suppose the theft of these few would even be missed. Hope not, anyway. They looked a nasty bunch of cut-throats. I'll close the cave now and get back home to my wife. She will be pleased! Close, Sesame. [He does.] [Enters the main area. Calls] Wife! Yasmeen! I have a wonderful surprise!
So Marjana listened as Ali Baba told the story once more [in exaggerated mime] and just as they had finished, there was a knock and outside it was Fatima.
Yoo hoo! Anyone at home?
YAS calling out
Come in, sister-in-law.
What are you doing? She's the biggest blabbermouth in town.
Calm down. She has to know. And don't worry I have a plan.
Ali, you know I wouldn't come here if I didn't have to. Kassim's disappeared.
You know? Ooh, the great oaf; didn't I tell him to follow you secretly? I might have known he'd get it all wrong. As usual. I should have gone myself.
And if you had, this could have been you in the sack. [He opens it to show her.]
FAT gasps, fails hack and is deftly caught by Mariana in a chair
Oooff! Marjana, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be about your work? [Mariana fans her.] Well, never mind - I'm glad you're here now. [Coldly.] I knew you and Kassim didn't get on, Ali, but to kill him? Was that really necessary?
And once again, Ali - with help from Yasmeen and Marjana - related the whole sorry tale. [The mime is hugely over-the-top now and very abbreviated.]
Mistress, if we are to keep the thieves from our door, we must make out that the master has died of natural causes.
How can that be? Look at him! [She gestures towards the sack.]
We must go home and tell people that he is sick. I myself shall go to the chemist and buy medicines. The progress of his illness should take two or three days - to make it credible.
He'll be stinking by then!
We'll pack him in ice. People will think we have bought it to cure his fever.
What if people want to visit him?
Oh, I'm afraid the disease is too infectious. They'll be turned away at the door.... After two days, we set up a great crying and wailing...
FATIMA entering into the spirit, beats her breast and howls loudly
Exactly. But quiet now; we don't want people hearing us yet. By our wailing, everyone will know that poor Kassim has died.
And of natural causes! Brilliant. No thief's going to suspect that. You've saved us all!
What about the funeral? People will want to view the body. It's traditional.
You could pretend that the infection might still be present.
You could. But I'm thinking that a burial where no one has viewed the body might still arouse suspicion amongst those thieves. They're bound to have spies. The body has to be seen... but how?
Covered with a sheet up to his chin? Only his head showing?
Unfortunately they quartered the body [He gestures graphically, at the top of his skull.] this way. His head's in two pieces.
Oh, my poor husband. [She rolls her eyes up as if about to faint. Marjana slaps her briskly round the face.]
I have it. I know a cobbler in the market-place. Though poor, his stitching is the finest I have seen and his shoes are exquisite.
Wait - those little gold slippers of mine? Were those made by him?
Yes, they were, madam.
You told me they were bought in Ali Khan's shop.
Yes, I did. Because I knew you wouldn't buy shoes from a market cobbler.
Too right I wouldn't.... You lied to me, Marjana... However, I'll forgive you this once, since they are my favourite shoes.
Thankyou. I think he'd trust me and he's not a talker. He'd be a safe bet, I think.
Marjana, you're being very obscure... a safe bet? A cobbler? What ...?
Sorry. My brain ran away with itself as usual. Briefly, then. I'm going to ask Faisal - the cobbler - to sew together the various parts of my late master.
Fatima gasps. The others took astounded.
Is it possible? I mean can such a thing be done?
I believe so. With his fine stitching, and a little bit of gum...
THE OTHER THREE
To glue hair along the crack... [Marks a tine with her finger along her scalp.]
THE OTHER THREE variously
Plus some of your make-up, madam...
FAT who is made up to the nines, haughtily
I do not wear anything so common as cosmetics. My beauty is entirely natural... [Seeing their faces.] Oh, all right then.... I do have one or two pieces in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.... in case of an off-day.
I can see what you're getting at, Marjana. Make-up to help cover the stitching on his face... yes, I really think it might work!
It has to work. Or we're all for the chop. You don't mess with those guys.
MARJ looks from face to face
So? Let's get on with it then.... [They exit.]
And so it was done. Marjana rushed around getting medicines and telling all and sundry how ill her master was. Faisal the cobbler, for a goodly sum of gold provided by Ali Baba, stitched at the strangest task he had ever had to perform. Fatima put in the performance of her lifetime, howling and beating her breast and calling on heaven to witness her terrible sorrow. And eventually Kassim, followed by a horde of howling relatives and mourners, was buried. A week passed and Ali Baba and his family were not murdered in their beds. They began to breathe again...
Abdullah and sundry thieves lounge about. Thieves 4 & 5 enter.
Well? What news?
Two old women, buried this morning and a little girl.
A market place beggar, thrown in a common grave.
Did you get a look at him?
I did. He had no legs and was much skinnier than our corpse.
That's true - a good point, lad. Our dead spy was a well-fed sort of guy...
And the dude we chopped - he had fine clothes on him.
That's true too. Hmm. Alright, you three. Go and search out all the nearby towns for a rich guy's funeral. [Thieves 4,5 & fi exit hurriedly as Thieves 1 and 2 enter.]
1ST THIEF panting
Boss! Boss! We've cracked it. [A hubbub of questions.]
ABD to the crowd
Shut up! ...You've found our missing corpse?
Well, no ...
What do you mean - coming in here with all that fuss and then ...?
Just give us time to explain, boss.
We were asking around the market-place, keeping our ears to the ground..
...twisting a few arms, as you do, jogging people's memory...
Yes, yes, get on with it.
And then we noticed this man...
...dressed all in rags he was...
Buying a very expensive Persian rug.
Sample Pages from Production Notes
INTRODUCTION: THEMES; THE PLAYS INTENTIONS
Taken, very loosely, from The Arabian Nights, this play version focuses more on the characters of Sheherezade and her sister Dunyazade, who are captured by the Caliph to become his next two wives. For those who dont know the original, the Caliph, betrayed in love by his first wife, has resolved never to trust a woman again. He therefore takes a new bride every night and has her beheaded in the morning. Sheherezade uses her skills as a storyteller to buy her time and keeps him entertained in this way for a thousand and one nights.The play dramatises two of these stories: Jaydar and His Brothers and Ali Baba and focuses on the interplay between the two sisters and the vain spoiled Caliph, who makes frequent interruptions of the tales.
The stories are there just for the fun of it - they are wonderful stories, as are most of those found in the Arabian Nights - though there is a slight bias towards clever and resourceful females in these tales. This is because the main theme of this version is how the two sisters win the Caliph round to the cause of art and to that of women - well, at least to these two women, Sheherezade and her sister Dunyazade. Of course, the Caliph is too much of a dinosaur to be completely won round, but he has a huge ego which can be appealed to. It is vanity that in the end allows him to continue with the telling of the tales for his own personal glory, as he allows them to be written down to demonstrate the glory of his reign for ever after.
The style of the whole piece is physical with plenty of slapstick comedy. But there is also a good deal of darker contrast built in, such as the abandonment of Jaydar and his slavery on the ship and the beating up of the beggar Faisal by the thieves. The Caliphs uncertainty of temper too, often creates considerable tension.
SHEHEREZADE is a portrait of the dreamy artist. She is wonderfully creative and imaginative - also fast-thinking: she is able to weave in elements of the story to please and flatter the Caliph when things get dangerous. However, without her sister, she would give up too easily. When death threatens - as it does more than once, she yields to it rather than fights. A gentle soul who has a way with words. She is, of course, also exceptionally beautiful with graceful movements of her arms and head, to show how well she has been trained to be decorative by her father.
DUNYAZADE is the cleverer of the two, the most resourceful sister. It is her plans and ideas that in the end win the day - and even at the end, when there would seem to be no place for her in this set-up, she wins the place of scribe: the official recorder of her sisters tales. Often, her quick-thinking causes the Caliph to hesitate before perfunctorily having them killed. The two sisters are, if you like, two halves of a perfect woman: Sheherezade representing imagination, creation, beauty and grace whilst Dunyazade represents resourcefulness, intelligence, practicality and good sense. Oh, by the way, she is supposed to be very pretty too!
CALIPH SHAHRYAR is vain, full of his own self-importance and thoughtless. He really doesnt have much of a brain at all, which makes him easy prey for the two clever sisters. He is cruel, too, thinking nothing of putting innocent women to death just because his first love was unfaithful to him. However, there is something endearing about him all the same - he is a monster, but in such a childlike way that his storms and tantrums only show a kind of insecurity and lack of understanding as to how a ruler should behave. Like a child, he only knows how to throw his weight around and frighten people with his bullying demands. But there is no real guile in him. Again, like a child, his courtiers are able to survive by flattering and pampering him and the sisters quickly learn to use the same ploys - only they go further and actually convert him into something like a good ruler and an honourable man - by personal example and by the example of the stories. In all his actions, the Caliph must be played as larger than life.
SERVANTS They are all servile [of course] but in an exaggerated way. Their voices should be oily and flattering. Their body language follows this same pattern and should be very exaggerated. Often, there is a demand for the servants to form groups. I give helpful hints about how to do this in the page by page notes at the end but, in general, apart from the first and second servants, who do separate from the rest at times, the rest of the servants should move in unison - the same rhythm, the same types of moves and, when frozen, in positions in which they are glued together to create a single grouping depicting, for instance, flattery, or surprise, or anxiety.
GUARDS The two guards are nervous thugs. They should be played as not very bright but they do have hearts. Especially the first Guard, who is very enamoured of Sheherezade and has to be pulled up by his friend, to obey orders.
JAYDAR Young Jaydar is a bit of a simpleton really, but dont play him as stupid - more as an innocent. He loves the world and all in it and thinks no ill of anyone, especially his brothers, even though they bully him. Jaydar grows up during the play. Through the help of the Genie and through the terrible experiences he goes through, he gains in authority without losing his basic good nature. He becomes a good ruler in the end - and serves as a reminder to our Caliph of what makes a good ruler.
SARLIM Sarlim, like his brother Saleem, is a rogue. He is cleverer than his brother, usually being the leader - the one who initiates the ideas, the one who will take first place after Jaydar as ruler. There is nothing likeable about either of Jaydars brothers, though they are played more for comedy than villainy. In the end, in the courtship of Asiyah it must be clear how evil Sarlim is.
SALEEM is the less clever one of the brothers. He is just as bad as
Sarlim really but is perhaps even lazier and certainly more stupid. Often
he is the one who would put his foot in it if Sarlim didnt clout him.
In the end, he is treated badly by Sarlim, and this awakes his jealousy. It
is this jealousy that brings both of the bad brothers down.
Go for contrast in playing these two characters: Sarlim, quick, agile, light on his feet with a quick tongue too; Saleem, slower, heavier, with a deeper, heavier voice to match.
OMAR an old man, father to the three brothers. he is near death when we see him, so should be quite frail in voice and stance. He is a good and wise father but perhaps was too old and frail to control his bad elder sons.
MOTHER is the indulgent mother who at first sees no real harm in her boys. She spoils the brothers, seeming to prefer Sarlim and Saleem to Jaydar. When her eyes are opened to their evil and their laziness, she does try to cut them out of her life, but is too weak to follow through. She is a loving mother - so is easily deceived into thinking the best of her sons.
JUDGES They are all grasping and greedy - but also clever. They should be played as old, with sharp, precise posh voices and claw-like gestures of the hands. They could move identically if desired.
MOOR Play him like a magician, which is what he really is. As such, he seems above ordinary human morals. He has no regrets about the death of his own brothers; they would have cheated him if they could have. He does have a genuine fondness for Jaydar and should be seen as indulgent and fatherly in the way he talks to Jaydar.
2ND MOOR A kind of magicianly version of Sarlim or Saleem. He is a magician like his brother, but is not so clever and has been too impatient to read the book of spells properly. He deserves his downfall and were not supposed to have any sympathy for his fate. He should be played as rather obviously cunning and untruthful.
CAPTAIN he is a brute - a cruel thug, but with a veneer of civilisation, including an upper-class accent.
SAILORS equally - thugs, without the veneer of civilisation. Strong accents needed.
GALLEY SLAVES a miserable lot of suffering mortals
GENIE, THUNDERING THUNDERER - not all that he seems. He seems to be a slave, but as Asiyah realises, he cleverly capitalises on the greed of bad masters to gain more power - and even their souls. In the hands of such as Jaydar, though, he is docile enough. When his master is threatened, he should be truly fearsome. I have given some clues in the costume section on how he could be made more terrifying.
GRAND CALIPH - if there seems a similarity between him and our Caliph - that is intentional. He is vain, cruel, dealing out death sentences without a thought - and ultimately deserves to be made to toe the line by a goodie such as Jaydar. More than anything - like our Caliph, he is weak and therefore blusters.
VIZIER could be a decent fellow, but has had to tread so carefully for so long, because of the fine line between life and death that any courtier of the Grand Caliph has to tread, that he comes over as frightened and self-serving.
EMIR The same as the Vizier. Playing them, go for contrast - large and small, fat and thin or different voices - high and low, for example.
ASIYAH The Grand Caliphs beautiful daughter who marries Jaydar. We dont see them together but because she mourns for him so strongly, we know that they were happy. Asiyah is a goodie and no fool. She manages to tiptoe through some difficult situations with Sarlim and Saleem, both of whom in turn try to marry her, since that will make their claim to the throne secure. She is more than a match for either of them. She lacks greed and vanity and thus is able to destroy Thundering Thunderer too.
ALI BABA Our hero of the second story. He is a poor man who, even when he lives on the riches he finds, never loses his humility and modesty. He is a worrier who finds himself unable to think when anxious, relying on his wife to comfort him, keep calm and come up with practical help. Despite being less effective than his wife, Yasmeen, Ali Baba has a strong sense of morality - particularly the laws of hospitality. He is generous and kind, losing no time in freeing Marjana from her slavery when her practicality has saved the day.
YASMEEN is Ali Babas wife. She is more practical than him but shares with him a similar sense of morality. She handles the difficult Fatima well, is always cheerful - a nice person with no sense of class consciousness, being equally friendly with the slave Marjana and her posh sister-in-law Fatima.
FATIMA is vain and silly - as well as being a nagging wife and a bully to her husband. However, she is not evil and should be played for the comedy, though her motivations for falling in with the others plans are certainly self-serving. She is greedy and not content with her more than adequate riches. She is also snobby, including Ali and Yasmeen in her list of people that she looks down on - because they are poor. As they have to work together to survive, Fatima loses much of her snobbery and becomes far more likeable, though still comical in her loudness and over-dramatisation of everything, especially her own distress.
KASSIM her hen-pecked husband. A small part. He is Ali Babas more successful [perhaps having married money?] brother. He has learned that it is all together more peaceful to do everything his wife tells him to.
ABDULLAH the villainous chief of the bandits. Again, like the Caliph, he is vain as well as greedy and cruel. He is as much of a ruler in his own little kingdom as is the Caliph, with the power of life and death and no qualms in using that power. He lacks the Caliphs stupidity and is altogether a much nastier piece of work, having no heart to break, let alone soften. Play him quite savagely - like a mobster gang leader. He should, perhaps, have an accent.
THIEVES - they are all rogues with loud voices, constantly vying for their chiefs attention. Try to differentiate between them, again through height, costume colours, different voice tones, etc. The third thief is more impatient and fed-up than the others. The seventh is perhaps the most hot-headed and has to be restrained at times. I have given words to 7 Thieves, but there should be more.
MARJANA the very clever slave. Her ideas are ingenious. She combines brains with courage and loyalty to her master and friends. She should move well [she dances] and she should be attractive. Since slaves were often high-born people from other nations, who have been conquered in battle, she should not be played accented. She acts a country girls part at one point, and this adoption of an accent must be clear, as one of the roles she plays.
FAISAL is a basically decent person who has fallen on hard times, mainly because he says what he thinks and has upset those who used to employ him. This has made him cynical. His better nature has been brought out by Marjana and he tries to remain loyal to that. In the end, though, he gives into the pressure from the thieves, even though he hates them. He is not without courage; for a long time, he resists the easiest path of giving in to them, but when he finally does, he hides behind his cynicism for the reason for his betrayal. This is probably to assuage his guilt.
The stage must be kept largely open, since it has to represent a number of places. It is necessary, though, to have an area set aside, such as a down corner of the stage, for the Caliph and the two sisters, who need to be present throughout the action. This shouldnt be too separate from the stage - which is why I suggest a downstage corner - because there are also many times when the action from these three characters needs to spill onto the main playing area too.
It would be nice if you gave it an Arabian Nights feel - with ornately-decorated pillars set at the back centre of the stage against back curtains parted to the width of the entrance-way. Through the entrance could be a vista of a formal garden - a fountain, flowers etc. This entrance can be altered where necessary by drawing the back curtain along behind it too, covering the garden view. Have the back half of the stage raised as well in two levels - this allows visibility of central entrances, easier groupings and the ability to sit on the edges of the raised areas. Place a couple of pillars on each side, too - or alternatively, decorate or replace your legs [the side curtains on many stages] with coloured cloths in Middle Eastern designs.
This set-up - central entrance at the back - raised platform, double, and an area set aside in the corner for the three mentioned above, will serve the whole play well enough.
The lighting cues below are simple and define only the areas which mark the main playing-space and the area in which Sheherezade, the Caliph and Dunyazade remain during the running time of one of the tales. If desired, you could differentiate between the main lighting on the stage when one of the stories are taking place and when we are in the Caliphs palace. Perhaps the stories could take place under a starker light and the palace lights be mixed with some oranges and reds to create a warmer interior glow. I have indicated where this should happen by the use of the phrases palace lights or story lights .
PAGE 1 Lights up to visible, but quite dim over main playing area.
PAGE 2 Quarter of way down page.Cue: Dunyazade - And remember - even Caliphs may change their mind. Palace lights up to full bright as the fanfare sounds.