Exuberant fun

2008-08-21 00:00

Theatre Review:

The Wizard of Oz

Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre

Durban

Any stage production of The Wizard of Oz comes informed by memories of the classic 1939 film starring Judy Garland; the film, rather than the original 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, has become the template by which successive generations have absorbed this fantasy into modern folklore along with its many hummable songs such as Over the Rainbow and We’re off See the Wizard.

This Kickstart production of The Wizard of Oz is based on the version created by The Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987 with a script drawing on the 1939 screenplay and it’s good to report that all involved do it exuberant justice. More than that, they have provided a feast for eye and ear. There are multiple characters, multitudinous dance sequences, set and costume changes galore, all kept briskly moving along by director Steven Stead who makes confident use of Greg King’s colourful vibrant designs and sets.

Carol Trench plays Dorothy, the role created by Garland, and although on occasion there has to be a willing suspension of disbelief to accept her as a winsome teenager (Garland was 17 at the time) her pleasing voice helps the audience buy in to the masquerade. That classic triumvirate, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, are brought endearingly to life by Bryan Hiles, Darren King and Peter Court, while Clare Mortimer has a ball as the Wicked Witch of the West (and some of the best lines).

The film kicked off in a rural Kansas bleakly rendered in black-and-white before erupting into glorious technicolour when Dorothy and her dog Toto (here played by a Yorkshire terrier called Rusty) are delivered to the land of Oz courtesy of a passing tornado. On stage King uses a colour-drained backdrop of rectangular monotonous fields and a near bare stage with the frontage of the house that is eventually whisked up into the heavens — just one of the times this production makes clever use of puppets and models and other visual effects to suggest changes in scale and perspective.

In Oz, Dorothy meets counterparts of people in her life back on Earth along with various other creatures, mostly benign, like the famously diminutive Munchkins, others less so, such as the Jitterbugs and the bat-like Winged Monkeys. Thereafter she sets off on a quest to see the Wizard who she hopes can help her return home while also providing a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man and courage for the Cowardly Lion.

All the fairy-tale themes of transformation, of good and evil, are here but minus the morbidity of the Brother Grimm tales that originally inspired Baum to write his stories. The result is wonderful escapist entertainment — Dorothy says, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” — and it’s well worth a trip up the Yellow Brick Road to Durban.

Theatre Review:

The Wizard of Oz

Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre

Durban

Any stage production of The Wizard of Oz comes informed by memories of the classic 1939 film starring Judy Garland; the film, rather than the original 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, has become the template by which successive generations have absorbed this fantasy into modern folklore along with its many hummable songs such as Over the Rainbow and We’re off See the Wizard.

This Kickstart production of The Wizard of Oz is based on the version created by The Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987 with a script drawing on the 1939 screenplay and it’s good to report that all involved do it exuberant justice. More than that, they have provided a feast for eye and ear. There are multiple characters, multitudinous dance sequences, set and costume changes galore, all kept briskly moving along by director Steven Stead who makes confident use of Greg King’s colourful vibrant designs and sets.

Carol Trench plays Dorothy, the role created by Garland, and although on occasion there has to be a willing suspension of disbelief to accept her as a winsome teenager (Garland was 17 at the time) her pleasing voice helps the audience buy in to the masquerade. That classic triumvirate, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, are brought endearingly to life by Bryan Hiles, Darren King and Peter Court, while Clare Mortimer has a ball as the Wicked Witch of the West (and some of the best lines).

The film kicked off in a rural Kansas bleakly rendered in black-and-white before erupting into glorious technicolour when Dorothy and her dog Toto (here played by a Yorkshire terrier called Rusty) are delivered to the land of Oz courtesy of a passing tornado. On stage King uses a colour-drained backdrop of rectangular monotonous fields and a near bare stage with the frontage of the house that is eventually whisked up into the heavens — just one of the times this production makes clever use of puppets and models and other visual effects to suggest changes in scale and perspective.

In Oz, Dorothy meets counterparts of people in her life back on Earth along with various other creatures, mostly benign, like the famously diminutive Munchkins, others less so, such as the Jitterbugs and the bat-like Winged Monkeys. Thereafter she sets off on a quest to see the Wizard who she hopes can help her return home while also providing a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man and courage for the Cowardly Lion.

All the fairy-tale themes of transformation, of good and evil, are here but minus the morbidity of the Brother Grimm tales that originally inspired Baum to write his stories. The result is wonderful escapist entertainment — Dorothy says, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” — and it’s well worth a trip up the Yellow Brick Road to Durban.

Stephen Coan

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