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The Wizard of Oz

by on 30 November 2022

A Lion, a Witch, and a Spectacular Wardrobe

The Wizard of Oz

by Alfred Bradley adapted from the novel by L Frank Baum,

BCP at the Kitson Hall, Barnes until 3rd December

Review by Andrew Lawston

Even rail disruption and the prospect of an England vs Wales football match can’t dampen the spirits of Barnes Community Players as they launch their winter show, a joyful stage adaptation of L Frank Baum’s classic The Wizard of Oz, directed with pace and invention by Jane Gough.  It’s important to stress from the outset that there are no songs, and few of the iconic lines of dialogue that you might be expecting, but there are buckets of charm and magic to go around.

Kitson Hall’s proscenium arch is held back for key scenes as the audience sit around a thrust stage.  From the outset this creates an interesting tension, as Dorothy’s “real world” family are depicted on the main stage, while most of the Oz scenes are played out down at floor-level, encouraging the audience’s greater complicity with the fantastical world in which Dorothy finds herself.

Dorothy swiftly arrives in Oz, to discover that she has killed a witch, inherited her sparkly red shoes, and that she must seek out the Wizard of Oz if she is to return home.

The set is minimal, really little more than a square of green fabric in the centre of the playing area, and the production’s fantastical elements, from the opening storm to various magic spells, rely heavily on Andy Hale’s ingenious lighting and sound effects.

If the set is minimal, however, the costumes are simply fabulous.  Toots Harker, Marion Earle and Penny Bayliss have pulled out the stops for the entire cast, from Phyllis O’Kelly and Liz Gebbels as poppy-wielding Oz residents, to the old favourites of Tinman (Adrian Chittock, with his wonderfully expressive axe-hand), Lion (Ashley Brown, who gives a thoroughly enjoyable performance as the cowardly predator), Scarecrow (Marie Bushell, who excels at physical comedy, whether it’s blinking widely after wearing the Emerald City’s green spectacles, or falling to the ground when her sticks are removed) and Dorothy herself (Darcie Hunter, who gives a spirited and energetic performance that drives the whole production).

Realistically, it’s probably impossible to stage The Wizard of Oz without engaging with the famous film adaptation to some extent, and it’s a credit to the production that the costumes are so visually distinct, while still evoking those timeless characters.  The jagged make-up lines across Tin Man’s face are particularly effective at evoking the cursed woodcutter desperate to regain his humanity, in what is quietly the play’s darkest plot detail.

Pitted against the heroes walking the Yellow Brick Road, however, is the Wicked Witch of the West, Amanda Marsden having a wonderful time in gloriously evocative green make-up, and complete with her Cat, a marvellously feline Amanda Harker (reading in for a Covid-recovering Annie Collenette who it is hoped will return for the rest of the run – get well soon, Annie!).  Although this show is not a pantomime in a strict sense, the audience soon become involved in booing the witch, even on one line where we were supposed to be feeling sorry for her.

Audience interaction is encouraged throughout the performance, though not through pantomime’s traditional call-and-response.  Instead, the audience brandish plastic flowers to become a field of poppies, or become a colony of mice, squeaking to wake up the Lion, or to alert the Tin Man that the Witch’s Cat is on the prowl.

The script is a 1971 adaptation by Alfred Bradley, a simplified version of the classic tale.  Some of the elements that have been removed from the original story are undoubtedly a blessing for budget-conscious directors (the flying monkeys are a much-missed, but understandable omission), but the removal of some of the book and film’s darker episodes does suggest that this is an adaptation aimed squarely at younger members of the audience.

The other major change is that although we first meet Dorothy on her Uncle Henry (Ian Glennie in a charming cameo) and Aunt Em’s (Clare Catford, who doubles as the entertainingly intense Queen of the Field Mice) farm, the script never specifies precisely where they live, freeing up the cast to perform in their natural accents.  We are indeed not in Kansas any more, and it feels like the right decision.

The Wizard of Oz, when we do get to meet him, is quite literally the man behind the curtain, sitting behind Kitson Hall’s proscenium arch.  Nabeel Shamerza gives an imposing performance on his first appearance before the Wizard’s more personable side is revealed, and the moment where he demonstrates his gift for ventriloquism through a series of speakers around the auditorium is particularly effective.

Good Witch Glinda (Win Duggan) appears towards the end to help Dorothy, but she is welcomed to Oz by the Good Witch of the North (Mo Al Rawi, who was great fun and we kept hoping we’d see again).  Dorothy’s magic to travel home is carried off with sound effects and slow-motion twirling.

A few opening night technical jitters aside, this is a lively and engaging production of a family favourite.  The younger audience members will adore it.

Andrew Lawston, November 2022

Photography courtesy of BCP

From → BCP, Drama, Kitson Hall

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