Image Credit: Stuart Wineberg, Lionel Elliott, and the Chameleons.
If there were ever such a thing as a Chandler’s Ford Today “works outing”, it is when Janet and I go to the latest production by the Chameleon Theatre Group. This time it was to enjoy the classic fairytale, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
What are the crucial ingredients for a successful pantomime? I would say these are:-
1. The panto must be fun above all else.
2. The pantomime dame, as ever played by a man, must always have over the top makeup and “loud” frocks. The hair usually has to be seen to be believed too.
3. There has to be a principal boy (in this case Ali Baba’s son, Hassan) and this role has to be played by a woman.
4. There are plenty of songs – some are well known traditional ones, others are pop songs.
5. There is usually a comedy animal – in this case a camel called Karmel – ably played by two people.
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6. The jokes should be capable of eliciting huge groans as well as big laughs.
7. The villain (in this case Al Racheed, the leader of the forty thieves) must be greeted by huge boos every time they’re on stage. The better the villain, the greater the boos. Think of it as a popularity poll in reverse!
8. Character names are often based on puns – in this case Mustapha Pea and Mustapha Dribble. Forget subtlety here. Subtlety is wasted in pantomime!
9. There must be plenty of audience participation. We expect to cry out “It’s behind you” a lot!
10. Props are big and brash too which, given pantomime is bold and brash, is only right.
11. Sweets are chucked out at the younger members of the audience.
12. The panto caters for all ages and it doesn’t matter if some of the gags go above the youngsters’ heads as (a) this might be just as well and (b) the adults love those. Something for everyone then…
13. There is usually a magical element such as a fairy godmother turning up to change the direction of the story. In the case of Ali Baba, the Spirit of the Sand is the magical element.
Mix it all up and have a couple of hours of most enjoyable entertainment!
The Chameleons ticked all of the above off their list with this excellent production of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. A great time was had by all. The script was written by Nigel Holmes.
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Incidentally, the Chameleons are supporting One Community with their shows this year. One Community are responsible for the Eastleigh Museum and the blue transport buses seen so regularly in the area. This is a great cause to support. Indeed One Community often bring people to see The Chameleons’ shows (and I hope they did for the panto too).
This production was faithful to the spirit of Ali Baba, but naturally had to be adapted to suit a family audience. The original story is bloodthirsty and justice has a rough edge (and a sharp one too!). The programme notes rightly admit to that but the gentler approach for this panto worked very well.
The villain still tried to have Ali Baba killed but is still thwarted by the clever slave, Morgiana. One of the joys of panto (and I think this is why it remains so popular with all ages) is that, as ever, the villain does not get away with their wrongdoing. You know there will be a happy ending and all is right with the world once again. (Alas, it isn’t really that simple but even as a child I knew that. Fairytales where right will prevail eventually can be a great source of encouragement and, to a certain extent, comfort as well).
Oh and one unexpected announcement revealed we were all in the presence of royalty. The ex-King and Queen of Ruritania were in the audience and every so often were bowed to. They even got to wear a crown at one point but that had to be hastily taken away as it formed part of the loot the forty thieves obtained for their leader. Ah well, I guess having lost a kingdom, losing a crown was all par for the course for the “royal guests”.
I would never have guessed at the Baby Shark song being included in a panto where the setting is in Cairo and when not there in woods (in this version of the tale Ali Baba is a woodcutter). They’re not obvious links!! Given the story comes from One Thousand and One Nights, and the setting that springs to mind there, is desert (and lots of it), the link with sharks is even more remote but it was a great way to finish the show.
Special mention must go to Terry James for stepping in as Mustapha Pea for Wayne Bradshaw, who was down with flu. Best wishes and a speedy return to health for Wayne and well done to Terry for stepping in at three hours’ notice. The great thing was Terry naturally needed the script – there was no way anyone would memorise a script of this length in such a short time – but it added to the charm of the panto. There were big laughs every time Terry had to get the script out again.
Panto is probably one of the few areas of theatre where things going “wrong” add to the pleasure of the performance. Most “errors” can be covered well (this is where the claim to be ad-libbing comes in handy!). In panto, it can also increase audience participation, as it did here. Incidentally I don’t know how much Terry really did need to refer to the script for but if that was part of the act, it was brilliantly done! If he really did need the script, that got many laughs, so job well done there too, and the panto, whatever the story, is all about laughter. It is no coincidence I think that panto is often the first route into the theatre for people. Enjoy a show at a theatre, you’re more likely to go and try out others.
Special mention to Geoff Dodsworth who played Ali’s wife, Barbara Baba (try saying that quickly. Well done if you can. Bet you can’t if you’re not sober!). It was his first time playing a pantomime dame and he was great. There was more than a distinct resemblance to Dame Edna Everage, the louder than life character created and performed by Barry Humphries here.
I did have one question answered in the show which links to my post last week, The Story of Stories – Ali Baba. Yes, the oil did come into the panto but it was “only” to drown the hiding thieves in. There was no mention of stitching bodies back together, understandably I think. Do check out the original story if you ever want clarification as to why fairytales such as this are not necessarily meant for kids!
It was also a nice twist that the Vizier in this story (played by Taylor Wileman – and this was his first time on the boards here) is a good guy in that he is trying to track down the forty thieves and recover the loot. It is a given in pantos and fairytales that the Vizier usually is the villain. See Aladdin for more on that in particular! Another first timer on the boards here was Chloe Lewis, who played Morgiana. Both turned in excellent performances.
It was clear to me that all of the cast thoroughly enjoyed performing the panto and the audience equally loved seeing the show. Oh and were there 40 thieves to get on the boards at Richie Hall? Err… no… Mustapha Pee and Mustapha Dribble spent the first part of the show trying to convince Al Racheed there were more than two of them by swapping hats and coming up with alternative names such as Mustapha Wee and Mustapha Another.
The chorus (adult and junior, who all sang well) of course did double up to form part of the gang when taking the loot to the secret cave but there were still well under 40 of them! There is no way that 40 would fit on that stage. Besides we all loved the swapping hats and coming up with silly names idea, not that Al Racheed was convinced. Songs included We’re In the Money, Dancing Queen, Reach for the Stars – all familiar stuff but again that is part of the charm of panto. It is to a format, it has to be to work, but the point is it does work. People laugh, sing, groan, hiss and boo and cheer as required and a great time is had by all. All too soon is it time to come back to the real world again.
So am I looking forward to the next panto by the Chameleons? Of course! And the great thing is I’m sure there will be some splendid shows by them to take in until this time next year when the audience and I will, once again, happily boo the villains and cheer when the heroes/heroines prevail.
Scene 1 – The Bazaar in Cairo
Scene 2 – A Street in Cairo
Scene 3 – The Bazaar in Cairo
Scene 4 – The Oasis
Scene 5 – Outside the Magic Cave
Scene 1 – The Bazaar in Cairo
Scene 2 – A Street in Cairo
Scene 3 – The Courtyard of Ali Baba’s House
Scene 4 – Song Sheet
Scene 5 – The Courtyard of Ali Baba’s House
Ali Baba…. Nick Coleman
Barbara Baba …. Geoff Dodsworth
Hassan Baba …. Lisa Dunbar
Kassim Baba…. Dave Collis
Eyneeda Baba …. Carrie Laythorpe
Mustapha Pea …. Wayne Bradshaw
Mustapha Dribble …. Glen Partridge
Al Racheed …. Jon Duke
Morgiana …. Chloe Lewis
Spirit of the Sand…. Kaleigh Fagence
Vizier …. Taylor Wileman
Karmel …. Clare Britton
Karmel…. Fiona Winchester
Adult Chorus …. Sarah Phipps, Siân Hayden, Lesley James and Liz Finbow
Junior Chorus …. Izzie Apperley, Aleigha Apperby, Lauren Griffiths, Lotte Moorse, Katie Finbow and Daisy Adams
Cave Door Announcer …. Jan Bradshaw
For the Company
Production Assistant …. Jenni Prior
Stage Manager …. Roger Hester
ASM and Scenery Design …. Terry James
Stage Crew …. Stuart Wineberg
Properties …. Lorraine Biddlecombe
Wardrobe …. Diana Mills
Lighting …. Sheila Hardiman
Sound / Special Effects …. Lionel Elliott
Followspot …. Alec Ransom
Front of House Manager …. Merle Dodsworth
Bar Manager …. Karol Cooper
Set Build …. The Company
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.