The Wizard of Oz

Adapted by Marietta Kirkbride from the novel by L Frank Baum
Watermill Theatre Company
Watermill Theatre, Newbury

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The Company Credit: Mark Senior
Dot, Scarrow, Tinman and Lionel Credit: Mark Senior

The Watermill theatre’s vibrant, refreshing new production of The Wizard of Oz, cleverly adapted by Marietta Kirkbride from the original book by L Frank Baum, is given a modern update filled with family fun.

Our heroine, Dot, delightfully played by Annabel Marlow, lives with her hard-working Aunt Em (Angela Caesar) and their dog Toto on a housing estate. Dot is a typical teenager filled with doubts, questioning her future, and seeks adventure.

But when an unexpected tornado hits the estate, Dot is transported from her monotone world to a mysterious, highly colourful land beautifully realised in Sophie Pardon’s spectacular set and costume design, enhanced by Ali Hunter’s imaginative lighting and Anna Short’s creative sound.

It’s a land filled with strange creatures, puppet Munchkins, the powerful Wizard of Oz and the warring witches, Glenda (Signe Larsson) and Westly (Angela Caesar).

The cast are all impressive and exceedingly accomplished actor-musicians playing Nick Barstow’s spirited score with relish. There are many catchy songs that effectively develop the story.

Dot is on a quest to find Toto and is encouraged to “follow, follow the yellow route on and on and on” which becomes the ‘earworm’ theme song.

En route, Dot meets Scarrow, touchingly played by Sally Cheng as the scarecrow who wants a brain. Chris Coxon gives a surly Northern interpretation of The Tin Man, with imposing movement, who wants a heart, and completing the trio is James Guilford’s superb Lionel, our Lion, who is searching for courage.

Their journey finally leads to the Emerald City, but the Wizard’s personal assistant, also played by Signe Larsson, refuses them entry. The only way they will get in is if they will complete a task to collect the Wicked Witch’s magical wooden stick.

Challenge successfully completed, they finally get to meet the Wizard, who is not all-powerful but rather needy.

All the characters have learnt lessons about themselves, having self-belief, friendships and the challenges that they face.

Deftly directed by Georgie Staight with striking puppet design by Dan Southwell from his frightening Quadling to his adorable Toto, this is an ideal Christmas treat for all.

Reviewer: Robin Strapp

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