Ali Baba, the poor, rightous man, unsuccessfully combats the evil Al Raschid and the Forty Thieves. He is helped by the lovelorn Dame, Cascara, Tinbad - a tailor so clever he can sew together a dismembered body - and the beautiful slave-girl, Marsaina. Fate intervenes in the shape of Morgana and her adversary Avarice. The marriage of Marsaina to Aliís son, Haroun, provides the perfect happy ending.
The staging can be simple or elaborate and the casting flexible - there are only a few thieves on stage at any one time. The plot is full of suspense and excitement, and although the blood-thirstyness of the original has been toned down, the villains in this pantomime really do get their come-uppance!
Ali Baba was the first pantomime I ever appeared in, and even forty-odd years ago productions of this particular subject were few and far between. I always considered this strange, as the colourful costumes and opportunities for spectacle were just as great as for Aladdin, a far more popular pantomime.
One of the problems, I could see clearly: the Forty Thieves themselves. Few professional managements could have forty brawny men in the chorus, and certainly no group of amateurs I knew boasted such talent. The obvious solution, then, was to reduce the numbers by always having some of them off-stage. This is what I've done with this version. The Forty Thieves of course, though always assumed to be men, could well include ladies made-up and dressed in appropriate manner.
A second problem was that Ali Baba is probably one of the most bloodthirsty tales of the Arabian Nights stories. A quick scan through the original would make one's flesh creep. Judicious editing, I hope, has removed most of the horrors, with just enough left to add menace to this ... one of the most exciting tales to come from the East, and for all intents and purposes, one of the first detective stories. (Note how Raschid almost tracks down Ali Baba, only to be foiled by Marsaina.)
The third problem was that Ali Baba was not really a pantomime at all. There was no Fairy and Demon element, and no Dame and Simple Simon character. These I have added. I hope purists will forgive me.
The occupation of Tinbad, who in the original story was a cobbler, I have changed to a tailor. This I feel is more real to the children of today who would not associate a cobbler with sewing.
Songs should reflect, as far as possible, an eastern "feel" and obviously the more colourful the costumes and scenery are, the better. There is no need for masses of messy body make-up, and dancing girls should be bare-footed. The rest of the characters should wear eastern-type slippers, or at least "flatties". Keep the lighting warm but apart from that, you have here a truly traditional pantomime which should delight your patrons for a long time to come.
Tinbad, a poor tailor
Cascara, Ali Babaís houskeeper
Ali Baba, a poor woodcutter
Haroun, his son
Marsaina, a slave girl
Morgana, Mistress of fates
Avarice, an evil Afrit
Kassim Baba, Aliís rich miserly brother
Hanki Panki, a failed thief
Jiggeri Pokeri, his companion
Al Raschid, ruthless leader of the Forty Thieves
Achmed the 'Orrible, one of his men
Chorus of Citizens, Merchants, Slaves, Thieves, Dancing Girls, Babes, etc.
For John Richardson who, after a long and distinguished career in the professional theatre, was introduced to me and in the space of a few short years four himself playing, amongst other things, my brother in a straight play, my ugly sister in pantomime, my partner in a radio documentary, my director in a World Premiere, and my straight man in countless "Entertainments". Thisíll teach you not to go "slumming".