BRISTOL – TOBACCO FACTORY THEATRES
OZ – till 16 JANUARY 2022
BRISTOL TOBACCO FACTORY THEATRES – 0117 902 0244
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 14 DECEMBER 2021
Taking a classic story and re-working it is always something of a risk. The challenge being to bring the story to life in a new and interesting fashion whilst (generally) respecting the original. Sometimes, that original is more or less ditched to create some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, purporting to have something to do with the source material. Sometimes the audience wish new writer/s hadn’t wasted their time, but occasionally, they are intrigued and entertained by the new take.
Director and co-writer (with Sarah Henley and Zoe Squire), Emma Earle, writes in her programme note of concerns about the influence of the 1939 film, yet, as she goes on to say, the books by L Frank Baum have far more to them than was seen in that ‘classic’ film version.
With any new adaptation there are changes – this one is no differnt; the tornado becomes a flood; ‘Over the Rainbow’ is a boat and Toto is Dorothy’s younger brother rather than a dog – something referred to in the dialogue throughout. No, specific explanation for the changes is given – that’s just how it is and, to be fair, one accepts it – albeit with a question-mark lingering.
This co-production between the Tobacco Factory Theatres and Pins and Needles Productions brings together a company of five actors who work tirelessly throughout keeping the narrative alive with a boundless supply of characters and inventive stagecraft.
For me the undoubted stars of the show are the music – composed by Jack Drewry; the sound design by Jon Everett and the lighting design by Chris Swain. The three departments work hand in hand throughout the show and the combined talent creates some of the best results in each discipline that I have seen for a long time. It is rare for a review to start by heaping praise on the technical team, but here it is warranted and deserved. Praise also for the puppet makers which are manipulated well by the performers and add some of that other-worldliness that the story offers the audience.
Adiza Shardow is a wonderfully realised version of Dorothy; vulnerable, but tough, nervy and resolute – she bonds with the other characters and with the audience so very easily. Alison Fitzjohn is a powerhouse as the leader of the Munchkins and as the Cowardly Lion – Queen of the Jungle in this version. Georgina Strawson is a thoroughly endearing Scarecrow and Joseph Tweedale gives us a splendidly tough Tin Man, but one with a soft centre. Martin Bonger delights as the slinky Wicked Witch of the West and as the Wizard of Oz from Oz. In between times, they all create other characters or work with puppets and props to create the storyline of Dorothy’s journey to try and find her brother – lost in the floods – and find out where her home really is. All five imbue their performances with great physicality which offers another visual treat for the audience.
‘There’s no place like home’ so the saying goes and this is made a central theme of the show with the climax giving vent to some socio-political thoughts on the subject of one’s place in the world and the influence others have on what that place might be. The plight of sea-going migrants and their acceptance into other countries being at the core.
The story moves along at a decent pace, though at times – the yellow brick road journey and the ‘techie’ build up to the final exposition – it sags a little; focus wanders. By the end it felt maybe 15 minutes too long, particularly bearing in mind it is aimed at ages 6+. Throughout though, the eyes of the audience are mesmerised by the visuals and sounds – climaxing in the incredibly inventive Wizard of Oz – you need to see this, it’s quite brilliant. There is plenty in this show for all.
The adaptation is loose throughout but the central tenets of the original tale remain; it is good to see it make use of elements which many will not have come across before; the boisterous Hammerheads for instance.
Emma Earle directs with a sharp eye on the story and on using the talents in the company to the full. It is an assured production by all and a lovely alternative to more traditional Christmas theatre productions.
Inventive, original and technically top drawer; OZ is a version of the original which is definitely worth travelling down any brick road to see.
CAST & CREATIVES
WRITERS – SARAH HENLEY, EMMA EARLE, ZOE SQUIRE
DIRECTOR – EMMA EARLE
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR – KATE PASCO
DESIGNER – ZOE SQUIRE
COMPOSER – JACK DREWRY
SOUND DESIGNER – JON EVERETT
LIGHTING DESIGNER – CHRIS SWAIN
MOVEMENT DIRECTOR – DAN CANHAM
PUPPET MAKERS – JESS JONES, ISABEL LYSTER, TISH MANTRIPP
PRODUCTION PHOTOGRAPHS – MARK WATSON
A TOBACCO FACTORY THEATRES/PINS AND NEEDLES PRODUCTIONS PRODUCTION