Ewhurst Players “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”
Ewhurst Village Hall – 27th January, 2017
Though not performed as frequently now as in olden days, Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves remains on the panto rota and here was made somewhat “less gory” by Director Marian Heathcote than the original tale of the Arabian Nights, thankfully. Containing all the elements we associate with traditional panto, this version by Alan P Frayn was therefore well chosen with the usual local and topical references eg Fatima’s Hazelbank Store, that “well known Iraqi grocery chain” with stores throughout Baghdad, and one in Ewhurst too, quaintly!
A generally strong company of twenty two, including a few children and very young adults all gave their utmost energy and talent to make the show run smoothly, which it did.
Outstanding performances were given by the following; Andrew Hull as Mustafa with boyish daft charm and a range of comical facial expressions; Wendy Davies as Queen, charisma and experience obviously showing through; Daniel Williams as Asbad, chief of thieves, with plenty of attack and verve in the role; Barrie Heathcote as a highly effective Vizier with world weariness and superb diction, even in a smaller role; Nicki Payne as Bashim and Julia Heathcote as Grabbit, the idiot baddie double act with superb mutual rapport, timing and delivery of lines, and comic business. They were all top drawer performers.
Only a tad less than excellent were Sophie Shickell as Ali Baba, in the principal boy role; Chris Dews in the Dame part of Fatima, who just needed to point his phrases a little more and use pauses to be truly dynamic. He certainly has stage presence and there is a gifted Dame there, given more experiences in these roles; Alsatia the dog (evil) in black played by Lou Worby and her opposite number Caterina the cat (good) in white, played by Catherine van’t Riet – both worked really well, but again needed a little more attack in general.
That extra 10% makes all the difference and – though this is a general rather than specific observation – top panto performers must be larger than life with huge energy, confident delivery, much use of body language and facial expressions. The very best players have all these qualities, most of which are only gained through stage experience, which can however sometimes be found even in relatively younger players.
Sharon Welland did really well as Marjana, (the slave girl and story heroine) and so did Jo McInnes as Crown Prince (son of the Sultan) and Kats Koster-Shadbolt as the Princess (whom he marries). Fabian Cole gave good support as Notsobad, the stage partner of Asbad. Fabian apparently took over the role at short notice, most creditably. Double acts and especially baddie ones have such potential for fun and both Daniel and Fabian added greatly to the show’s enjoyment.
Bill Pilcher, clad in turban was a most competent Sultan and Natalie Davies, the daughter to the Vizier was a pretty and realistic storyteller Scheherazade.
Chorus members Peter Bradley, Imogen Fowler and Melissa Sweet all played full parts doubling as thieves, dancers etc. with the three children Lucy Payne, Neave van’t Riet and Katie Welland all showing promise in smaller roles.
Camelia the camel was not credited in the programme, which is a shame as he / she did well. Talking camels are not often found in panto, but I was very pleased that Camelia could talk, and did so – extremely well in fact! Skin parts are a major part of panto and the two people involved deserve a mention!
In general the performance had pace – and certainly energy – but only on a few occasions cues were slow to be picked up.
The opening set of two bead curtains covering stage exits left and right with turbans painted above were effectively portrayed and the director Marian Heathcote, who is highly experienced, used the rather small stage to its utmost, to her great credit.
The music throughout was sung lustily and tunefully, though panto players are not known for their operatic power, as was evidenced here. Song highlights were these – “Life’s a Happy Song”; “We could have been anything we wanted to be”; “The moment I wake up / It must be Love”; “All by Myself”; “You are the Wind beneath my Wings” (excellent comedy and hilarious routine); “The more I see You”; “Be Our Guest”; “Love was made for Me and You”; and finally the Finale song “We got the Feeling”. I found the drumming rather loud on the opening number “Panto Express”, but perhaps my ears became attuned as, after that, the band under Musical Director Simon Fraser gave good support with just the right volume.
Many of the panto scenes were done outstandingly well, my particular favourites being these: the Hazelbank Store; Alsatia and Caterina dialogue scene; Bashim and Grabbit as new gang members, wearing “L” plates; the corny dog jokes (Pal, Chum, Winalot etc); the kitchen scene – very strong and most effective, (though I trust the coated sponges “frisbeed” into the audience during my visit were thrown out less enthusiastically during subsequent performances); Camelia’s entrance and Ali Baba’s singing; spirits of the Cave (Junior chorus in attractive gold costumes); the strobe lighting for Ali Baba’s escape (an effective end to Act one); Fatima’s jokes with audience; the white chalk cross scene on Ali Baba’s door; the oil sheiks disguised with beard and sandals(classic panto at its best!); Notsobad’s tongue twister (superbly done); young lady dancer and her acrobatics; the songsheet scene (“Ali Baba’s camel”) really well run by Mustafa; the Act two finale.
Sophie Shickell, doubling as Choreographer set mainly simple dance and movement routines which were well rehearsed, well carried out and which contributed much to the show’s success.
Wardrobe under Anne Lyth with Fee Fraser, Molly Fraser and Hilary Pannell was well above average panto standard and made a strong impression overall. There was plenty of bright colour, which is vitally important. Alsatia and Caterina were particularly effective, as were the Sultan, Vizier, Marjana “et al”.
Make up and hair was done in real panto style – I especially liked Alsatia / Caterina – and credit must go to Nicki Payne and Sophie Shickell!
Lighting and sound effects were well used by Carl Osborne and Bob Foley respectively.
Though I have noted a few possible areas for improvement, the whole production was highly enjoyable with all the important ingredients and in particular the vital company energy and life being very much in evidence. The company did the production team and themselves, not to mention the audience, proud.
Lighting Carl Osborne
Sound Warwick James
Jon Fox – NODA District 19