The Champion Of Paribanou: History

In April 1996, the Stephen Joseph Theatre opened - the first permanent home for the company founded by Stephen Joseph in 1955 and of which Alan Ayckbourn had been the Artistic Director since 1972. The venue opened with By Jeeves - a revised version of Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Jeeves - rather than a new Ayckbourn play. This he saved for Christmas with his family adventure The Champion Of Paribanou.

Whilst it might have seem an unusual decision by the playwright that his first piece at the new theatre should be a family play, it made perfect sense as one of Alan's desires was to show off the potential of the venue and what could be achieved in the new space; which made the decision to stage a magical fantasy for young and old a perfect choice. It was a signal of intent with one of the most technically ambitious shows ever to be staged by the company.

The inspiration for the piece came, appropriately enough, at a Christmas party. From a grab-bag of presents, Alan was given a copy of
The Magic Carpet; the actual book was published by Parragon as part of their Mini Classics range and although titled The Magic Carpet, it appears to be a version of The Story Of Prince Ahmed And The Fairy Paribanou from The Thousand And One Nights (or The Arabian Nights).

Alan liked the story and saw potential, but by the time he had written the play, the original story had changed quite radically and been replaced with an epic fantasy and love story with a highly moral centre questioning good and evil and the consequences of the choices we make. The story also made a radical departure from its source material by making the female characters, particularly the Princess Nouronnihar and the maidservant Murganah, strong and independent characters with clear opinions on their futures.

The Champion Of Paribanou was a technical challenge for the Stephen Joseph Theatre featuring, among other things, a flying magic carpet, a puppet called the bookmarker and two major sword-fights. The challenges enabled the designers to use a new feature of the Round; the stage floor can be lowered below stage level and another stage floor built up from this. In essence this gives below-stage access and allowed for the installation of fast-traps and the mechanism to make a carpet fly.

The play also drew on film and literary influences with Alan crediting everything from George Lucas (creator of the
Star Wars movie saga), science fiction author Isaac Asimov, the writer Robert Louis Stevenson to the swash-buckling films Alan enjoyed watching as a young boy. Indeed the Financial Times described the play as 'Arabian Nights meets Star Wars.' One thing is certain, like all of Alan’s plays for young people, there is more to this play than initially meets the eye.

The Champion Of Paribanou opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in November 1996 and proved to be a great success for the theatre with audiences young and old alike. Alan would go on to express a continued fondness for the play and returned to it in 2005 for the SJT's 50th anniversary, staging an even more elaborate and ambitious production.

The play has been published by both Samuel French and Faber & Faber.

The Thousand And One Nights

The Thousand And One Nights or The Arabian Nights is a collection of Oriental stories, attributed to the Arabic writer Alf Laylah Wa Laylah which draws together oral story-telling tradition centuries old from throughout the Middle-East.

The premise of
The Thousand And One Nights is the King Shahryar discovers his wife has been unfaithful to him and has her and all those who have betrayed him killed. Loathing all women, he announces he will marry and kill a new wife each day until there are no candidates left for him to marry. In a bid to save herself and the women of the Kingdom, the Vizier’s eldest daughter, Shahrazad, insists on marrying the King to implement a clever plan. Each evening she tells a story, but does not complete it, promising to finish it the next night. The stories are so entertaining the King keeps putting off the execution until he eventually abandons the plan.

In written form, the stories can be traced back to the 8th century - although they continued to develop and expand until the 16th century - but are undoubtedly of a far earlier origin and drawn from throughout the Middle East, not just Arabia.

The Thousand And One Nights was first translated for a western audience by Antoine Galland from 1704-12, in twelve volumes. The first English text was John Payne’s little-known thirteen volume edition, published between 1882-84. This formed the basis of Sir Richard Burton’s famous sixteen volume edition, published between 1885-1888, which is probably the best-known of the English translations.

Among the many stories in the collection are the tales of Sinbad the sailor, Aladdin and Ali Baba. All of which have become famous throughout the world.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.