BWW Interviews: Douglas Rintoul, Director of 1001 NIGHTS

BWW Interviews: Douglas Rintoul, Director of 1001 NIGHTS

"Purni Morell, the director of the Unicorn Theatre who knew our work at Transport said to us, 'What do you reckon of The Arabian Nights?' I only knew a few stories so I had a little read and it just seemed as if 1001 Nights would make an exciting, contemporary production for young people. Everybody knows Sinbad and Aladdin and the Disney films, but there's so much more can be done with those stories. I asked myself, what do these stories mean to us today, and that was the starting point for getting young people "to meet" the stories.

"Setting them in present day London brings you closer to the original text, because Scheherazade is telling stories every night to save her life - so it became a question about how someone would survive in the present day by telling stories. Many are about loneliness or being split from one's family - so our Scheherazade is a girl who has left home, having been forced to leave Damascus and separated from her mother, but who knows all the stories and tells a tale each day to reflect on her life and help understand her new world.

"It's the first piece I have made for young children, so I was thinking about what I wanted them to get from the theatre experience. I wanted to instil a sense of play through storytelling and creative imagination. When I was a kid, I was always making things - which may be why I ended up as a theatre director. Our Scheherazade meets a neighbour in London and she wants to tell her the story of The Envier and the Envied, because te neighbours is being bullied and the tale will help her. But, with no shared language, she has to use the objects around her to communicate - for example, our magic carpet is a mop. We also have q Cinderella story in our production, which is the neighbour's offer back to Scheherazade.

I" don't think there's any real difference in making theatre specifically for young people. But you do have to be really rigorous - if it's boring or unclear, you'll know immediately. You have to be more detailed than ever - you can't just sort things out later! You have to be very aware of the internal rhythms of the piece - like it's a piece of music.

!There isn't much theatre directed towards teens - though we've been commissioned by Bath Theatre Royal to research and develop a piece for exactly that audience. Our production of As You Like It toured last year and that age group really connected with what we were doing - it was exciting to see what they were picking up on. The Unicorn has also produced a piece by EV Crowe called "Liar Liar" for that audience. I think it can be hard to get that age group to go to the theatre - it's not easy just to rock up and go in, and we need to do more to make it so. The Contact Theatre in Manchester dos that incredibly well - a whole theatre focused on young people. It's an exciting audience, because they're interested in how the world works socially and politically - so how we capture that and engage them is crucial.

!If young people want to get involved in theatre, it's really important to find a good local group to work with, who will introduce them to a whole range of theatre and not be limited to musical theatre or physical theatre for example. At the New Wolsey Theatre, they have a fantastic young company who get great support and work with brilliant teachers. It's really important that kids do stuff outside school curricula - it's where I learned most about growing up, about other people, about negotiating. Collaborating with other people at an early age helps you to love others - it comes from having to make stuff out of nothing."

You can see Douglas Rintoul's 1001 Nights on tour until July.

Photo Zbigniew Kotkiewicz

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Gary Naylor Gary Naylor is chief reviewer for and feels privileged to see so much of London's theatre.

He writes about cricket at and also for The Guardian, Spin Cricket and Channel Five and commentates at His writing on films and other subjects is at

Comments are always welcome.


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