The Wizard of Oz
The Rep’s annual family production soars magically over the rainbow.
Last year’s festive treat, 101 Dalmatians, brought puppy-puppet delight to Birmingham. Could this year’s offering, The Wizard of Oz, match it?
The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ thanks to director Liam Steel’s joyfully modernised production of this much-loved classic. It’s a gem. A sparkling emerald.
The audience knew they were in for something special before the show began: the cast were beaming on stage performing in a skiffle band, kazoos creating a perfect feel-good buzz.
Adaptations of L Frank Baum’s story of Dorothy and her struggles to return home to Kansas have a rich stage history. It first appeared in theatres two years after its publication in 1900. This artistic version brought a modern Oz to audiences thanks to set designer Angela Davies’ innovative vision which saw the bones of Dorothy’s house ever-present on stage. It worked beautifully in suggesting that she is never far from home.
Costuming complemented the vision perfectly: exit the gingham dress and ruby slippers we associate with Judy Garland in the 1939 MGM film, enter dungarees and sparkly Doc Martens on a feisty Dorothy, played with strength and a mischievous spirit by Chisara Agor.
Puppet designer Samuel Wyer’s grotesque, wrinkled yet strangely beautiful munchkin puppets were a revelation, stealing the show with a moment of theatre magic as they bounced around the stage singing ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!’
Why does this utterly bizarre story of Dorothy and her hurricane-fuelled flight to the land of Oz continue to capture the imaginations of readers and audiences? It can’t all be down to that iconic Garland performance. It explores some of the ‘big themes’ of our lives: identity, belonging, home, family, dreams, hope and courage. This clever, artistic and joyful production somehow managed to keep all of these ideas bubbling under the surface.
It promised a ‘sprinkle of Rep magic’. It delivered a sparkling, spellbinding bucketload. Here’s hoping whatever is planned for next year includes puppets.
The Wizard of Oz ran from 24th November 2018 to 13th January 2019