ALI BABA & THE FORTY THIEVES
book and lyrics by Ben Crocker music by Sarah Travis.
The Theatre 2 Spring Street OX7 5NL To 7 January 2012.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 01608 642350.
Review: Timothy Ramsden
Chipping Norton sets a standard for small-town panto.
Cassim Baba has an unpleasant wife who’s a social-climber and wants wealth to help her join “the Baghdad set”. It’s doubtless one of the stranger local references in this year’s pantos, coming within the Prime Minister’s constituency. And if it’s the villain of the piece who refers to “the big society”, it must be said that no-one’s that villainous in Ben Crocker’s gentle script, with its high story quotient and mild openings for ribaldry of a sexual rather than political nature.
Mostly it’s good clean fun, with a colourful set occupying Chipping Norton’s small stage, occasional imaginative use of shadow puppets (helping emphasise the ethnicity of the Arabian Nights characters) and Sarah Travis’s pleasant songs pounded-out by panto regular Peter Pontzen on the piano – an unexpected source of sea-life this year.
There’s elaborate play on the names of arch-robber Mustapha’s sidekicks Yessah and Nossah, Sam Dutton and Kali Peacock in perfect rapid-fire responses as they keep on muddling their names with their ‘”Yes, sir” and “No sir” responses. Peacock makes her helmeted dimwit delightfully distinct from her assertively greedy Sharon (“Sharon" to the few who like her, “Sharon” to the many who don’t). And Suzanne Ahmet distinguishes the desperation of Ali Baba’s slave-girl love from her calm authority as storyteller Scheherezade.
Craig Rhys Barlow’s Welsh-toned Ali (Cassim’s younger brother) has surprisingly little to do, unlike Shaun Hennessy’s maternal Dame in the fun areas, and brother Cassim, caught between his own good intentions and his wife’s pushiness, in the plot, while Camille the camel provides every appearance of bespectacled wisdom along with determination to satisfy natural appetites.
Forty thieves will provide a challenge for most stage productions, and Crocker provides a nicely humorous way of reducing their number, adding to the comic villainy of Middleton Mann’s tall leader with a taste for impulsive capital punishment.
It may be that interesting ideas are more apparent than ways of developing them. But Crocker’s good-humoured piece, in a production by John Terry that is amiable while keeping events moving forward, provides a pleasant, attractive and easily-assimilated show, one to give delight and hurt not.
Safiya/Scheherezade: Suzanne Ahmet.
Ali Baba: Craig Rhys Barlow.
Yessah/Fab Rick/Moonah: Samuel Dutton.
Mum Baba: Shaun Hennessy.
Cassim/Loonah: Sam Kordbacheh.
Mustapha/Noonah: Middleton Mann.
Sharon/Nossah: Kali Peacock.
Huma: Sienna Callen-Franklin/Jasmine Soper/Maddy Meeson.
Children: Amelia Ledgard-Hoile, Georgia Lock, Lucy Pomeroy/Amber England, Beth Hill, Rowan Truelove/Hannah Burman, Oscar Mackie, Ellen Williams-Sharkey.
Director: John Terry.
Designer: Russell Craig.
Lighting: Amy Southeard.
Sound: Tom Smith.
Musical Directors: Sarah Travis, Peter Pontzen.
Puppets: Paul Batten.
Choreographer/Assistant director: Lucy Hind.
Costume: Nell Knudsen.