2009 Footlights Pantomime: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

Marcus Hallan quenches his thirst for the funny from this comedic oasis...

ADC Theatre Mainshow7.45pm Tues 24th-Sat 5th December - 4/5

The staging was excellent. A revolving platform fulfilled an array of settings throughout the performance, whether it the conspicuous ‘camel toe' tavern or the craggy treasure trove and for this alone the ambitious background and design team should be wholly commended. The production values and efforts involved in fulfilling even the most tenuous of visual gags was impressive and surely emblematic of the sheer enthusiasm that must have gone into crafting this praiseworthy piece from the outset. Whether it was a sausage clock here, or a dangling rope there, it all helped to give that extra punch to the line and further the fun-filled mirage.

Ali Baba' was made a loveable and endearingly dim-witted scamp by Mel Heslop, but it was James Walker's ‘Nalu' that so imperiously stole the show as he played his comic villain to saturation point and beyond.

In the desert of pantomime it is absolutely necessary to stay moist and he did so with aplomb. His grandiloquently dark tones and sense of always ‘trying something new' in lambasting his fellow performers and audience with embellished scorn is what deserves to be remembered most. He held the stage with the sort of gifted presence that will only grow larger and funnier as the run progresses. Ben Kavanagh's sexually frustrated genie, ‘Jeanie,' with pierced belly button and wanton desire to have the sand well and truly rubbed out of  her lamp, was also noteworthy, particularly for his singing performance- surely the most accomplished of the evening.

The ‘Cassim' of Keith Akushie was understated, likeable and with a natural sense of comic timing- but he looked noticeably awkward as ‘You go your way' was drowned out and lost to the music. However, Richard Bates and Joe Bunker should be congratulated for their musical numbers and hopefully they will be appreciated in full once certain vocal levels are adjusted.

 The choreography throughout the show was also surprisingly neat and charming and Charlotte Reid should be praised for moulding something genuinely structured and fun for the company out of what may have otherwise been reduced to farcically nomadic nonsense.

Unfortunately there were inescapable hiccoughs and opening night moments that fell flat. Sandstorms of laugh out loud wit were followed by the occasional dune of a wry smile. The comic  catalogue of the forty thieves was more ‘Argos' than golden nugget and the second act in general clearly lacked some of the frantic pace and frolic of the first.

A microphone painfully went dead for an entire awkward rap duet-in itself  too reliant upon audience participation-which the otherwise impressive dynamic duo of Jamiel (Adam Hollingworth) and Amara (Ben Ashenden) managed to bravely pull through unscathed. The narrating camel was initially inspired and will be received by the audience as such- but it didn't take long before it tediously slowed the action.

Such measures were needed for set changes at points, but at others the intake of punning took more drag than a whole pack of ‘camel' cigarettes. That said, the copious confectionary thrown into the audience did sweeten the arid lull.

With minor quibbles aside this is an evening not to be missed on account of its joyous levity and the ease with which it entertains. A lot of graft has clearly gone into this Pantomime, and the enthusiasm can be tasted.

So if you've been lucky enough to thieve a ticket then look forward to a night of frivolous and harmless delight.

As I left I heard the writers were said to have wet themselves with pride...it may not give you a dose of comic sunstroke, but it should leave you thirsting for more.

Marcus Hallan

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