Ali Bawbag and the Four Tealeafs

Pantomime is arguably the most self-aware and self-mocking of theatrical forms, with the most successful shows seeing cast and audience mutually shattering any metaphorical fourth wall with what was once called gay abandon. This latest example of “A Panto, a Pie and a Pint” at Glasgow’s Òran Mór is a prime example of when it works brilliantly.

Late one night Ali discovers the secret “Open Sesame” code for a lock-up used by a gang of robbers. He starts helping himself to the cash and valuables but his and his wife’s sudden good fortune doesn’t go unnoticed…

Woodcutter Ali (an at times literally sparking performance by Frances Thorburn, in a Gerard Kelly-esque black wig) is financially-challenged – unlike brother Frank (Anita Vettesse), who married well and now considers Ali an unsophisticated bawbag – a Scots word for scrotum, generally used as a slang term for an annoying or irritating person (or, in 2011, a hurricane). Late one night Ali discovers the secret “Open Sesame” code for a lock-up used by a gang of robbers. He starts helping himself to the cash and valuables but his and his wife’s sudden good fortune doesn’t go unnoticed…

The script by Dave Anderson (who does drag as Ali’s wife) and Gary McNair is sharp, makes narrative sense and is more than happy to draw attention to the production’s limitations – the 40-strong gang of robbers staying, quite understandably (given the cast of four), off-stage. It underscores those moments when characters gratuitously start providing the audience with necessary backstory, and revels in a villain (a delightfully leering George Drennan, who also doubles as Ali’s sexually-frustrated sister-in-law) who loves his overtly-complicated “theatrical” plans. And, of course, it drops in numerous opportunities for audience responses – which are repeated, with just a right level of disdain, until the audience remembers its role in the proceedings.

Importantly, of course, given a writer and composer of Anderson’s talents, there’s a point being made here – as the audience singalong underscores, “Money is the root of all evil”. But it does so with lightness and humour, taking pot-shots at not just the aspirations of the nouveau rich – “This is what happens when poor people get rich quickly; they buy shite things” – but also the innate blindness of those who inherit money and yet still believe “You make your own luck” through hard work.

The expectedly gaudy and cartoonish set by Jonathan Scott and OTT costumes by Sooz Glen are visually effective while ensuring no unfortunate pauses between scenes; this is an hour-and-a-bit show that rattles along at a fantastic pace, never letting a moment’s boredom set in while still giving the audience time to catch their breath between laughs. Rude rather than lewd, the fun comes as much from mathematical puns as it does nob jokes and contemporary references to the Krankies, the Chilcot Enquiry and local institution the Western Baths Club. All in all, a sharp, tightly-produced panto that’s definitely worth your time.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

Ali is a very poor man, with a brother who is wealthy. He also has a wife who looks, let’s face it, like a man. One day, Ali is in the woods – don’t ask – when he sees a (budget) band of robbers. The leader says a magic password and a boulder rolls away from a rock face. Ali discovers, after they’ve gone, a cave full of riches, and his life is never the same again. A strange tale unfolds, involving Ali’s greedy brother, his aspirational wife, the band of robbers, and more besides.

Òran Mór’s annual Christmas Panto for grown-up children has become a not to miss Festive Season comedy treat. Join us this December for Dave Anderson and Gary McNair’s irreverent take on Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Boo, cheer and sing-along, Oh, yes you will!

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