The Champion Of Paribanou: World Premiere Reviews
Ayckbourn The Champ (by Kevin Berry)
"Alan Ayckbourn's new play for children has the traditional look, style and narrative sweep of an Arabian Nights fantasy.
There are discernible influences from the Greek myths, and even a slight touch of Star Wars, but The Champion of Paribanou is wonderfully fresh and original, a story that grabs attention and will have audiences thoroughly absorbed. Ayckbourn's dialogue is as wry, sharp and ironic as ever, and the action crackles on at just the right pace, twisting and turning without any need for tedious exposition.
The timid son of a sultan takes on the mantle of Champion of Paribanou. Against the odds he is armed only with unflinching self-belief. With a typically audacious touch, Ayckbourn introduces a tough, feisty girl, an apparent heroine who gradually turns to evil.
Each character is drawn with freshness and appropriate shades of colour, but the Sultan and Grand Vizier are played too close to pantomime style to be entirely satisfactory.
Nevertheless a classic play has been created, Ayckbourn's best ever. Other rep companies ought to be looking at it; audiences in other parts of the country deserve to see it."
(Times Educational Supplement, 13 December 1996)
Techno-Buff's Arabian Nights (by Alfred Hickling)
"So what brings Alan Ayckbourn to Marrakesh? Suburbia has given way to Arabia for this delightful family-oriented fantasia. Yet one suspects the real reason is that Santa came early to Scarborough this year, bringing a splendid new theatre to play with.
Ayckbourn has used Scarborough's art deco Odeon as a second chance saloon for some notorious back catalogue blackspots - It Could Be Any One Of Us, the Cluedo play no one understood; and By Jeeves, the Lloyd-Webber lark no one could hum.
Suitably revamped, both were transformed into latter-day hits. But just when the new Stephen Joseph Theatre was beginning to look like a first-rate retirement home for refurbished repertoire, Ayckbourn has pulled his latest show from the sack.
The Champion of Paribanou is a marvellous artefact, handcrafted from the finest traditional materials, but spiced up with technology. It may look like an ageless Arabian Nights fairy tale, but you could imagine it provoking tears beneath the Christmas tree, should the components pop out and the batteries not fit.
That Ayckbourn is a master story teller is hardly worth repeating. Less noted is that he is one of Britain's most dedicated theatre techno-buffs. The creation of a romantic adventure story on a stage kitted out to his own specification has been worth waiting for.
During Ayckbourn's mid-career output in the old Stephen Joseph auditorium, a rug was most notoriously used for a spot of spontaneous nookie in The Norman Conquests. Now, when someone unrolls the Axminster, you suspect - though find it hard to believe until it happens - that the thing is going to take off with three actors aboard and hover insouciantly above the stage.
It is a classic ingredient of Ayckbourn's children's entertainments that the plot should be no less labyrinthine than the scenery. The Champion of Paribanou is a moral maze quest based on the opposition of good and evil, with the added twist that Pauline Turner's sprightly serving girl, Murgannah, beats the boys hands down by becoming the strong, brave, heroic one - as well as the corrupted baddie.
What does not feature is the integrated, multiple-choice plotting and audience involvement which characterises other work. It is unusual to sit through an Ayckbourn children's show which finishes exactly as the author intended, without having any say in the matter. Nevertheless, the excellent cast must have been delighted to learn that they had only the one script to learn. It must be Christmas."
(The Guardian, 17 December 1996)
Arabian Nights Meets Star Wars (by Ian Shuttleworth)
"Alan Ayckbourn openly acknowledges the debt which his family Christmas show owes to George Lucas. The Champion of Paribanou is equal parts Arabian Nights and Star Wars: Grand Viziers and flying carpets on the one hand, mysterious beings with glowing eyes and comically malfunctioning androids on the other.
In fact, the robot character Salim more or less sweeps the Lucasian board: he looks like Darth Vader, but behaves somewhere between R2-D2 and Chewbacca the wookiee (and, for added bonus science fiction value, he talks like a Dalek). Just about the only ingredient missing is that fights are conducted with good old-fashioned swords rather than light sabres.
However, since the story of Star Wars is faithful to the same tropes as all great tales, it should come as no surprise that in two hours we cover the corrupting effect of power, the conflict between personal feelings and higher duties and the victory of the determined young underdog, as well as a little byplay involving gender roles and the importance of believing in oneself. Nor does Ayckbourn shy away from the more shadowy aspects of tales of yore.
Not to give too much away, the story deals with the thwarted love of Ahmed (Jonathan McGuinness), the sultan's youngest son, and his childhood sweetheart Murganah (Pauline Turner), and with Ahmed's quest to rid the land in general and his household in particular of an ancient evil now reawakened.
Ayckbourn's direction at times shows a slightly awkward Disneyfication: performances seem to owe more to animation than to theatre, as with Adrian McLoughlin's habitually bustling Grand Vizier or Kate Farrah's bland Paribanou, a character who has little function other than to provide a cause in which Ahmed can be enlisted. More than counter-balancing this, however, is a sprightly staging with fine smoke-laden special effects and a lethally excessive use of the Stephen Joseph's system of stage trucks.
The script also demonstrates a sharp acuity in inserting just enough gags tailored for the grown-ups. The school parties grew restive only during a couple of lengthy speeches; Ahmed and Murganah's early kiss was greeted by only a single young "Yeuk", and such chatter as there was consisted largely of engrossed second-guessing of what might be about to happen - all of which amounts to a seal of young approval."
(Financial Times, 11 December 1996)
The Champion Of Paribanou (by David Jeffels)
"If ever proof were needed that the insatiable appetites of today's hi-tech-orientated children can be equally satisfied on the live stage as well as on television and the cinema, then Alan Ayckbourn's new children's play at the Stephen Joseph has all the ingredients.
The story centres around Ahmed and Murganah and a series of adventures both on this planet and beyond - boy meets girl and the inevitable falling in love by all concerned despite evil influences.
Malcolm Rennie's Sultan is a joy and the polished performances of his sons, played by Andrew Mallett, Howard Saddler and Jonathan McGuinness, are matched with excellent portrayals by Pauline Turner as Murganah, and Eleanor Tremain as Princess Nouronnihar. Adrian McLoughlin deserves special mention for his hilarious role as the Grand Vizier.
Imaginative stage sets and effects by Roger Glossop and Mick Hughes are complemented by John Pattison's music. The remainder of this talented cast are Wolf Christian, Kate Farrah and Colin Gourley. As he fast heads towards his half century of plays, Ayckbourn draws on his wealth of knowledge and success in the theatre to provide a wonderfully written Christmas show for all the family."
(The Stage, 12 December 1996)
The Champion Of Paribanou (by Charles Hutchinson)
"It started with a Christmas party gift for Alan Ayckbourn. Now this family fantasy fable makes a magical Christmas present.
Inspired by a pocket book of Arabian Nights tales, Britain's most prolific playwright set to writing his Ayckbournian Nights.
Guiding him on his journey, he says, were Star Wars' George Lucus, Isaac Isamov, Robert Louis Stevenson, childhood movies and his own wild imaginings.
In a "land of the forgotten past or undreamt future", the feast-loving Sultan (Malcolm Rennie, giving a five-course performance) has three royal sons: the bookish Hussain (Andrew Mallett); the would-be ladies' man Ali (Howard Saddler) and impressionable Ahmed (Jonathan McGuinness). One must marry Princess Nouronnihar (Eleanor Tremain), but neither they, nor she fancies the prospect.
Nor does Murganah (Pauline Turner), daughter of the Grand Vizier (Adrian McLoughlin, as a sort of Arabian butler). Beautiful Murganah from below stairs loves dutiful Ahmed; Ahmed thinks he loves her; she's always won their games by fair means, until now. A mysterious hooded figure in black grants her powers in return for grim reaper's rights (as in Dr Faustus).
She can do good, but she chooses to do evil, sending her on a collision course with the righteous Paribanou (Kate Farrah), who adopts Ahmed as her champion in a conversion that mirrors Jack's progress from wimp to hero in Jack And The Beanstalk.
Ayckbourn's play has comedy for all (especially a defective, rusty robot), some sexual politics for adults, and strong themes of family honour, temptation and self-belief. Above all, underpinned by John Pattison's score and the technical trickery and aplomb of designer Roger Glossop, it has magic, charm and imagination.
Like the magic carpet, this play flies. As Arabian storytellers say, there are no children's stories and adult stories, only good stories - and this is one of them."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 10 December 1996)
The Champion Of Paribanou (by Lynda Murdin)
"It is initially gratifying for us girls that the all-action hero of this new family show, written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn, is female.
"You're useless so so I'll have to look after you," feisty Murganah tells Ahmed, youngest of the Sultan's three sons, as she wins yet another sword fight. But our feminist glee disappears as quickly, as a box of Turkish Delight on Christmas Day.
Murganah, jealous of the beautiful Princess Nouronnihar whom one of the Sultan's three sons must marry (she doesn't realise they have all entered a secret pact to avoid wedlock) sells her soul to the forces of darkness. Given supernatural powers, she grows more despotic than Margaret Thatcher, inflicting terrible punishments on those who oppose her.
It is the anti-hero Ahmed who saves the day. He is encouraged by another beautiful woman, Paribanou, whose champion he becomes after losing his way on the mountain where she lives... Confused? You won't be - at least not by the rapidly unfolding events.
For it is a cracking yarn, accompanied not by arias but dramatic musical underscoring from John Pattison. The Champion of Paribanou is, in fact, right champion.
Inspired by a tale from the Arabian Nights and acted by a large and accomplished cast, including a robust Malcolm Rennie as the feast-loving Sultan, it holds the attention of all age groups. And some grown-up jokes, such as the liking that Ali (Howard Saddler), the self-regarding second son, has for servant girls, add an extra pinch of spice for grown-ups.
The special effects are delightful, and, making the greatest call to date on the Round auditorium's technology, they hold out much Eastern promise for future shows.
Particularly thrilling is a supposedly defective magic carpet which turns out to boast powers of levitation that would make a fakir start."
(Yorkshire Post, 6 December 1996)
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