The Champion Of Paribanou (1996)

In 1996, Simon Murgatroyd interviewed Alan Ayckbourn about The Champion Of Paribanou prior to the play opening at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.

Simon Murgatroyd: The Champion Of Paribanou is described as “a fantastic tale for the whole family” and is very different to your previous shows for families, what is it about?
Alan Ayckbourn:
It's a love story, an epic with lots of sword fights. Darting blades, magic and even a mechanical man - although being one of mine it invariably goes wrong from the word go! It's about something I've never really written before, but once I got going it woke my childhood closet of memories of films and theatres I loved as a kid.

Where did the inspiration for this adventure come from?
It's an interesting one actually. I was sitting down at a Christmas party, as I'm wont to do, and my partner Heather had been given a grab-bag with a set of children's books. The Magic Carpet was among them, one of the Arabian Night stories which I didn't really know. I read the story, which is rather intriguing and not what I expected. It clung to me. I began to wonder if it might make a wonderful Christmas show.

So The Magic Carpet inspired it….
As soon as I started writing, it took off and became something very different. It was one of those plays which came very easily. I got very involved in the whole thing - as I do - and stripped it down to its basic story of good and evil, which is basically what a lot of children's stuff is. It's nothing like the story now! In my story the three brothers go off because they don't want to marry the princess. She's happy, because she doesn't want to marry any of them. It becomes a little more inverted - avoid marriage at all costs, even in fairy stories!

This isn’t your typical Christmas theatre fare.
I didn't want it to be a panto-type story. The witch does not enter stage-right and the fairy stage left. It's a lot more about choice, it's a lot more in the tragedy tradition with heroes who make the right decisions and those who make the wrong choices and go to the bad. There are happy endings, though, and it's quite scary - not frightening, which is fun. I think there's a mistaken belief that children go to the theatre to laugh and nothing else. They have a bigger appetite than that. My first plays were quite light but as I've grown darker I've noticed children get more involved.

It sounds a lot more epic than your previous plays, has this posed any challenges in itself?
In its own way it's quite an epic and proving interesting to direct. Most times with modern plays, I keep asking the actors if they would stop acting. Here, I'm encouraging them to go for it. It needs that bigger scale - the Star Wars style! It looks simple but it's very challenging and requires very good acting. The technicalities have been a nightmare. It's the first time we've gone into the stage, which will open up the theatre a bit more in terms of what it technically can do. It's not like huge complicated sets though.

You mentioned Star Wars, it does seem as though there’s more than a touch of cinematic influence here.
Someone will have a field day wondering how many movies I referred to in any one scene! I hope the result is a sort of big montage, one big picture created from a thousand small ones.

You’ve obviously enjoyed writing the play; does writing for a young audience change your writing style?
All one does is try to make sure it stripped down, so it doesn't carry excess flab. You're always looking for the quick way to do things without boring the kid, once you lose them, you never get them back. I hope adults will enjoy it too. I've enjoyed it and I sometimes find I get the most satisfaction writing for kids as you can behave like a kid again, which is great fun.


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