Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Shaftesbury Arts Centre

revuShaftpanto2WE have such a damaged, tragic image of Baghdad these days that it is good to be reminded that once it was a city of dreamers, poets and story-tellers, glittering minarets, camel caravans bearing the riches of the Silk Road and turbanned merchants in swirling robes … the land of the Sultan and Scheherazade and the 1001 nights.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is one of the most famous Arabian Nights tales and it’s a great pantomime story, full of magic and dastardly villains, heroes and exotic maidens.

David Swan’s script, chosen for Shaftesbury’s 2017 pantomime, is a terrific, pacy retelling of the story with plenty of fun additions to make it an all-round hit with audiences. There are fortune-tellers, slave-owners, riches beyond imagining, a camel, belly dancers, a mummy, incompetent robbers, a bumbling archaeologist and the two brothers, rich greedy Kasim and poor Ali Baba the barber.

The central roles were dashingly played by Sam Skey as Ali, all flailing arms and enthusiasm, and Ben Denham, with glittering eyes and twisted smile as the evil Kasim.

Sophia Wilson-Weaver gave a terrific performance as Kasim’s bossy wife, Susan Grant was Ali’s energetic policeman son Rhum Baba, and the archaeologist Prof “Indiana” Jones and his daughter Polly were in the safe hands of Jerome Swan and Kate Mulholland.

revushaftpantoThe dame role in this pantomime goes to Fatima Kebab, who runs a distinctly tasteless fast food – live snake pie, anyone? Robert Ralph is a joy, a dame in the Jack Tripp tradition, petite, not camp and definitely not glamorous, but twinkly and kind, with an appealing smile and some fancy footwork. His dance of the seven veils is one of the highlights of the show.

Among the other principals, Scott Henstridge and Jade Hall had great fun as the knockabout baddies Bubble and Squeak, Marie Stubbs is the magical Spirit of the Cave and Denise Baldwin and Jennifer Trenchard were properly glamorous as the belly-dancers Vanilla and Delight.

There may not have been quite 40 thieves but there was an impressively long line that came marching down the aisle between the audience, and the pots were quite big enough to accommodate a person.

The music is in the capable hands of Hayden Williams, Richard Clarke and Jerome Pegler, the choreographers are Alex and Eleanor Wetherilt and the excellent set was designed by John Cadmore.

Sue Cadmore said two years ago that The Owl and the Pussycat was going to be the very last big show she was going to direct, but she loved it so much she thought she would do “just one more traditional pantomime” – it’s easy to imagine the arts centre drama group will be hoping she will decide she can do just one more …

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves continues at Shaftesbury Arts Centre to Saturday 28th January and Wednesday to Saturday 1st to 4th February. There are still a few tickets – don’t miss this colourful, action-packed show.


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