Operation Magic Carpet Flies Into Wimbledon!

Chris Gray reviews the latest Polka production

Part domestic drama, part fantasy, part pantomime, Operation Magic Carpet successfully melds insight into immigrant identity with acrobatics, dance and comedy.

You start with mum, daughter, and uncle around a Golders Green kitchen table debating what to eat. Fish fingers to please Iraq-born Dad and or tabouli to please the live-in uncle angry that the family’ original identity is being forgotten? London-brought-up daughter Nomi despairs of the mundanity of English life. Uncle’s stories about water buffalo at the end of the street and Shakespeare’s allegedly hidden Iraqi origins fire her imagination with ideas of a Baghdad full of the stories her life apparently lacks.

Overhearing that her mum left her heart in Bagdad, Nomi unlocks the magic of a kitchen carpet, finds a genie in a jar of mango pickle, and flies off to an Iraqi capital that thankfully is more Arabian Nights than 21st century reality.

So the play mutates from domestic scene to the extravagant, fantastical world of all-seeing Caliphs and Sinbad the Sailor, through which Nomi first tries to recover her mother’s heart, and seemingly failing, find her way home regardless.

This is where it comes alive. The blind uncle’s anger and mum’s kitchen dancing enlivened the domestic scenes that were in some danger of falling flat, but once Nomi has flown to her imagined Baghdad, the stage effects, physicality of performance and humour take off

The second half is more pantomime than kitchen-sink drama, but it doesn’t lose the underlying themes about identity – they’re just reinforced by the laughs and spectacle.

Our London-born eight-year-old walked home practising Arabian-style dancing, showing the impact of the show’s physical energy. But you have to hope the messages around family ties transcending geographical moves and culture shifts also seeped in. They deserve to.

  • Operation Magic Carpet, by Samantha Ellis, runs at the Polka Theatre until May 24.

April 12, 2015

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