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.
The Champion of Paribanou runs until January 4. For information, tel: 01723 370541.