Ali Baba & The Forty Thieves
by David Swan
Performed at Church Hill Theatre, Morningside Road
Wednesday 9th - Sunday 20th December 2009
Sunny Baghdad is the ideal family resort, particularly for those in search of hilarious adventure. The accommodation is excellent, with constant hot and cold running sand and single bedouins in every room. You'll find bargains galore in the old bazaar: you can get your hair cut at Ali Baba's for a penny or your throat cut by El Scorpio for nothing. If you fancy a bite to eat, try Fatima's snake pie: it's the local fast-food ... get your teeth into it fast before it gets it's teeth into you!
Sightseeing couldn't be easier ... you can get involved in all the local colour without leaving your seat. But if it's excitement you're after, why not join the intrepid Pollyanna Jones and her father on a treasure hunt? They're seeking the 'Tomb of Doom' and need lots of help avoiding thieves and ancient curses. The 'Tap Dance of the Seven Veils' is worth waiting for and all is revealed in the end.
Annals Of The Edinburgh Stage - Thom Dibdin (Saturday, 12th December 2009) ****
Pantomime Review - Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves
All the fun of a traditional Scottish panto is to be had up at the Church Hill Theatre this week, as Edinburgh People’s Theatre take on David Swan’s version of Ali Baba – and hit the mark just about spot on.
There’s a strong script, good performers, the song-choice is excellent in terms of both giving the audience a singsong and pushing the story along. The dance troupe are both lovely to look at and effervescent in their performance. Not to mention a wicked dance of the seven veils – more of which later.
Most importantly, director Irene Beaver has succeeded in bringing great energy to the stage. The opening song feels a trifle slow – and is not quite audible – but from the moment Ronnie Millar starts his opening scene as the Ali Baba, the barber of Baghdad, the bad jokes start rolling and the pace keeps building.
Millar’s deadpan delivery will not be to everyone’s taste but it certainly grows on you as he drops comic asides into the script and sends the most hoary of old chestnuts out into the auditorium without the hint of a blush. Great stuff!
The company have chosen a strong basic script from David Swan which they have updated with excellent topical gags, plenty of local references, a couple of in-jokes and even, when it comes to their local rivals down at the King’s, a topical local in-joke.
It’s a strange kind of panto in one element though. All the staple characters are present and correct – rhyming good fairy, hissable villain, dim hero, a pair of dishy lovers and couple of knockabout comics – but there are also two characters who share the usual attributes of the panto dame.
First there’s Gordon Braidwood as Olive Baba, Ali’s vile sister-in-law married to his villainous, money-grasping brother, Kasim. Braidwood has the costumes and the cross-dressing, but none of the weight of the plot or any of the big routines.
Then there is Mandy Black’s Fatima Kebab, owner of the cafe just across the bazaar from Ali’s barbershop. Black gets a few good outfits but has a more robust – and vulgar – input to the comedy as she chases after Ali and helps drive the plot along.
Which is good casting from Beaver, as it plays to both performers’ strengths. If some of Black’s lines don’t quite have the impact they might if she were cross-dressing she has that boisterous, physical presence the character needs.
There are strong turns from most of the other principal characters, too. Mairi Beaver is excellent as love-interest Polly Jones, whose dotty dad is looking for a lost tomb. She adds greatly to the singing and dancing power of the ensemble, and works well with W. Scott Hale as Rhum Baba, Ali’s son.
Slightly less positive is Will MacIver as evil Kasim. He’s almost there, but just needs a bit more physical control of his performance to pull the role of pantomime villain off as he might. By contrast, Ann Mackenzie’s good fairy Crystal is beautifully pitched, whether in disguise as an old crone or as her bright, shimmering self.
There are great performances right down the cast – with a special mention for Lyzzie Dell, whose Vanilla is a delicious mix of sexy and slapstick. And as for her seventh veil, it is a mystery worth waiting for.
A big, fun show, which makes the most of a strong amateur cast who obviously know how to have fun on stage themselves.