Florians Theatre opens sesame on nine (Arabian) night run of its latest pantomime – Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves – as city company promise romance, hilarity and MC Hammer
A FIRST time theatre directing role would be a daunting challenge for any thespian.
But for Ria Devey, her first directing role is a little more daunting than most people’s – taking the reins on the Inverness community touchstone that is the annual Florians’ Christmas pantomime.
“I was only supposed to be the assistant director,” Ria explained. “The original director was Claire Fisher – I’d said, ‘Oh, I’d love to do a panto, sort of Ali Baba,’ blah blah blah. And she said, ‘Oh so would I!’
“And next minute she got asked if she’d like to do from the Florians the panto, and then she asked me along to be her AD. But unfortunately her mum got quite seriously ill, and she had to pull out. And then it was, ‘Oh, what do we do?’
“The chairman of the Florians, David Russell, said, ‘Oh Ria, do you think you’d be up to doing this?’ And I stupidly said, ‘Yeah, ‘course I would!’”
She laughed. “In for a penny, in for a pound!”
This year’s pantomime sees the famous Arabian Nights folk tale Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves brought to life at the Florians’ Little Theatre – with a series of pantomime-friendly twists on the old story.
“The formula’s the same as any panto. You’ve always got your love interest, you’ve always got a dame in it. This year we’ve got a camel – Camille the camel.
“So yes, you’ve got the love interest between Ali and Safiya. His brother’s in it, Cassim – who’s married to the horrible Sharon. And you’ve got the dame, who’s Mum Baba – she’s the mum to Ali and Cassim.
“She’s played by Jason Hatton, who’s a policeman of so many years standing in Inverness. He’s got the pressure on because he’s got colleagues coming to see him, and he’s had to learn how to walk in high heels!”
There are also the titular 40 thieves to contend with. In the folk tale, they are 40 of the nastiest brigands alive.
In the Florians version? “You’ve got all the thieves coming in dancing to MC Hammer – I mean, it’s totally different. Yeah, so...” she adds before busting out with a great peal of laughter.
To reveal much more would of course spoil things – but one can surely expect all the typical trappings of a jolly ol’ pantomime when the curtain rises on Friday night for its first of ten shows over the next nine days.
It's a double delight too, as this year's pantomime is the same one as had been due to be performed last Christmas – until its shock cancellation due to extenuating circumstances.
"The auditorium floor seating gave way," Ria explained. "It was supposed to be last year but obviously we just could not get that finished and turned around in time, there was just no way."
You’ve got all the thieves coming in dancing to MC Hammer – I mean, it’s totally different!
But now, opening night is nearly upon them, and the butterflies are definitely starting to flutter now. “It’s a bit of excitement and nerves,” she said.
“It really is, it’s like, ‘Please let it go fine.’ And I know it will be great, the cast will pull this off – because for a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever done panto.
“So it’s just trying to explain to them that the process is exactly the same. It can be a bit bitty, you know, when you’re trying to run both acts, and everybody just has to keep their calm together, and it will be alright on the night.
“But, you know, the cast have been working hard putting in rehearsal time themselves. They’ve put in a lot – a LOT – of hard work and I can’t ask for any more than that.”
And regular Florians patrons have another reason to attend – this is the first time the theatre company have ever put on a version of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.
“Over the years, they’ve repeated your Cinderellas, your Sleeping Beauties, etcetera. This is the first time Ali Baba’s been done, so for me it’ll be a first for the Florians, the Ali Baba bit.
“In the foyer we’ve got these two things, they advertise the Florians on it and says all the different over the years all the different plays, all the shows that we’ve done. And I’m thinking, well the next time that gets printed, it’ll have Ali Baba – and it won’t be the one that’s repeated!”
She pauses, before bursting into laughter again. “Or it might be never to be repeated again, I don’t know!”
If the enthusiasm Ria has for directing the show comes across even just a little bit on the night, the only answer to that question is a loud and heart, “Oh yes it will!”
The Florians begin their run of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves on Friday night at 7.30pm, with performances running until Saturday, December 14. For full times/prices, go to www.florians.org.uk