Tag Archives: The Wizard of Oz

Friends of Dorothy

THE WIZARD OF OZ

The REP, Birmingham, Thursday 29th November, 2018

 

Frank Baum’s classic tale comes to Birmingham in this vibrant new production from director Liam Steel. Updating the framing story of Dorothy and her aunt and uncle eking out a living on a farm to the 1950s, the early scenes of this production look like a John Steinbeck and sound like a Tennessee Williams – especially when Miss Gulch appears, drawling like a Southern belle, lording it over the po’ folk. The opening scenes serve to set up what is to come, when our plucky heroine finds herself transported to a magical land, just as elements from our everyday lives filter into our dreams.  It’s downbeat, dramatic stuff, until Dorothy (a superlative Chisara Agor) sits on her bed and sings Over The Rainbow, her face sweetly optimistic, her voice rich and soulful.  This is the first ‘wow’ moment of the evening.  There are more to come.

The tornado that drops the house on the Wicked Witch of the East, is stylistically presented, with swirling stagehands dismantling the farmhouse shack the Gale family calls home.  The frame of the house remains present throughout, a centrepiece of the set, just as home is ever at the forefront of Dorothy’s thoughts, which is where we are, in effect, in Dorothy’s noggin all along.  Sorry, if that’s a spoiler.

Chisara Agor as Dorothy_Wizard of Oz_c Graeme Braidwood

Gale force! Chisara Agor as Dorothy (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

Chisara Agor is matched by an excellent ensemble, ranging from Dillon Scott-Lewis’s pop-and-locking, robotic Tin Man to Kelly Agbowu’s cowardly Lion, who brings the house down with her singing voice rather than her roar.  Shanay Holmes’s good witch Glinda channels the likes of Mariah and Whitney for her big numbers – the singing in this production is top notch, inducing shivers down your spine.   Jos Vantyler’s Wicked Witch of the West, with cheekbones for days and the kinkiest boots is a bitter and twisted delight, but I fell in love with Scarecrow, played by an apparently boneless Ed Wade, who brings an astonishing physicality to the role.

Jos Vantyler as Wicked Witch_c Graeme Braidwood

Wicked! Jos Vantyler (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

The great and powerful Lorna Laidlaw doubles as the charlatan Professor Marvel, gesticulating grandly over a crystal ball, and as the eponymous Wizard, playing both with humour and warmth.

The production elements are as impressive as the cast.  Liam Steel’s Oz seems to be heavily influenced by Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, with its diva-esque apple trees and flamboyant carnivorous plants, courtesy of some brilliant design work from Angela Davies and costumes by Samuel Wyer.  The drag queen aesthetic is strong in this one.  The Emerald City is a stylish, avant garde place, like the swishiest nightclub in the gay village.  The familiar and well-worn songs are given new, contemporary arrangements by musical director George Dyer, refreshing them like a new coat of paint, but retaining, thank goodness, the catchy tunes and witty lyrics of Harold Arlen and E Y Harburg.

With charming, sometimes scary, puppetry, and plenty of inventive scenic ideas, this production pulls off the magic trick of meeting audience expectations of the famous story while providing enough that is fresh and new and surprising to renew our acquaintance with Baum’s timeless brilliance.  The REP has gone that extra mile along the yellow brick road to produce this magical spectacle.  A wonderfully inclusive show for all the family, it will make you laugh and it will melt your heart like water on a wicked witch.

Spell-binding.

Lorna Laidlaw as The Wizard of Oz and Ed Wade as Scarecrow_c Graeme Braidwood

Wizard! Lorna Laidlaw as Oz and Ed Wade as the Scarecrow (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

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The Wizard of Oddsocks

THE WIZARD OF OZ

Artrix, Bromsgrove, Sunday 14th January, 2018

 

In the summer, they do Shakespeare; in the winter, the funniest theatre company in the land turn their attention to classic stories.  This year, the inimitable Oddsocks Productions take us to the land of Oz in this new adaptation of the L. Frank Baum novel by writer/director/genius Andy Barrow.  His cast of five actors, supplemented by puppets, do the lot.  An original twist has Dorothy’s Toto narrating the action but on the whole, the show sticks to the familiar plot, albeit streamlined and seen through the prism of Oddsocks’s trademark style.  It is not a spoof – the source material is never mocked but the pantomime styling of the presentation makes for a fresh interpretation of the time-honoured tale.

Making her Oddsocks debut as our heroine is Freya Sharp; her Dorothy is perky and fun without being saccharine or overly earnest (looking at you, Judy G!).  The rest of the cast are familiar faces:  Andrew McGillan, among other roles, appears as the tallest munchkin and an impressively physical scarecrow, for which he must have had several major bones removed.  If not, I want the number of his chiropractor.  Joseph Maudsley returns, mainly as the Tin Woodman – he gets to utter the most blatant innuendos with a look of utter innocence (The show has plenty of laughs for the grown-ups but is never smutty).  Also back is the hilarious Gavin Harrison, with ten roles to play, including a pantomime villain of a Wicked Witch of the West and the Great and Terrible Wizard himself.  Finally, the funniest woman in Britain (and probably Europe) Elli Mackenzie excels as a ‘gender fluid’ Cowardly Lion.

The cast perform with seemingly indefatigable gusto and charm, while Andy Barrow’s script keeps them busy and keeps us laughing.  Practical effects are brought into play to depict such moments as things blown away by the cyclone, the Lion swimming, the Scarecrow dropped from the sky… These throwaway moments are delightful in their invention and execution, while big moments: the melting of the Wicked Witch (spoiler, sorry) and the big reveal of the Wizard (a magnificent giant puppet head) to be none other than the great and terrible humbug currently in residence in the White House, reveal the genius of Andy Barrow, the Wizard of Oddsocks.  Yes, we’ve had a lot of laughs; yes, the story and meaning of Baum’s original remain intact, but also we get topical references and political satire added into the mix.

Along with some familiar numbers, there are original songs by Felix M-B, all of them pretty good.  The closing number in particular has me humming all the way home.

Above all, the show is fun, fun, fun.  Silly, irreverent and clever, Oddsocks are in magnificent form and this is a wonderful Wizard of Oz.

off-to-the-emerald-city-lo

Friends of Dorothy: Freya Sharp, Joseph Maudsley, Elli Mackenzie and Andrew McGillan


Well Wicked

WICKED

Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 10th July, 2014

 

Author Gregory Maguire’s prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a dark and sensuous novel, here translated to the stage by Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and Winnie Holzman (book). It’s a fluffier affair that races through events but is not without its darker side. The inhabitants of Oz are shown to be easily swayed by colour prejudice and fear, like UKIP voters. Their propensity for scapegoating the evils of their society involves an actual goat who, like other animals must not be allowed to teach the children, and must be denied their voice. The show looks back at the rise of Nazi Germany but is also a rather chilling depiction of the current rise of the far right in Europe.

The story tells of Elphaba, a girl who soon learns it’s not easy being green, but despite that develops into an engaging character – we take her to our hearts even though we have been told from the get-go she is to become the Wicked Witch of the West, and we will have a right old ding-dong when she is dead at last. Elphaba gets into a loathing-at-first-sight relationship with perky, popular girl Glinda (Gah-linda!) when she enrols at Shiz University – a kind of Hogwarts, or Oz-warts, I suppose. The pair’s mutual hatred turns to respect and a lasting friendship that is touching to behold. As the standby Elphaba, Jemma Alexander gives a powerhouse of a performance, but it is Emily Tierney’s Glinda who delights and amuses in her every scene. She’s an airhead and hilariously so, but Elphaba brings out the best and the worst in her – this is as much her story as the green-skinned witch’s. As circumstances conspire against her and public opinion is manipulated by lies and propaganda, Elphaba becomes an outlaw and a figure of fear, Glinda too goes up in the world, even channelling Eva Peron on her way to becoming the ‘good’ fairy we recognise from the classic film.

It’s a spectacular presentation of a storybook world – the fairy-tale gothic of the sets and costume gives us a world that is like our own but not so. The humanity of the characters is recognisable and relatable, and the script cleverly includes in-jokes and references to the original source material. It’s also an origins story – we see how the friends of Dorothy get to be how they are, although Dorothy herself is marginalised. Holzman’s script is witty and fun – it’s a pity Schwarz’s score is patchy at best. The songs are hardly memorable – they serve a purpose within the plot as it unfolds with only the glimmer of an occasional refrain you might hum on the way out. The cast do their best to belt out the numbers and keep the energy levels high.

There is appealing support from George Ure as heartbroken Boq, and Liam Doyle as swaggering Prince Charming, Fiyero. Marilyn Cutts is strong as Madame Morrible, who looks like Barbara Cartland but has the cold black heart of Theresa May. Dale Rapley’s Wizard is the only one to speak in an American accent – the shyster from Kansas – in this very British-sounding production.

Unlike Maguire’s novel, it’s family fare – although there are some nasty moments. It’s more Brothers Grimm than Walt Disney. This grown-up fairy-tale has emotional and political resonance but above all it’s an enjoyable spectacle – it is so good to see shows of this scale and quality here in the Midlands.

 

Emily Tierney proves popular as Gah-linda

Emily Tierney proves popular as Gah-linda