The Wizard of Oz, by L Frank Baum, Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E Y Harburg
Birmingham Rep Theatre: The House
Runs: 2h 45m, one interval, till 13 January 2019
Bham Rep BO: 0121 236 4455
Review: Rod Dungate, 30 November 2018
Much to delight in
Visitors to Birmingham Rep wishing to follow the yellow brick road to Oz are in for a stunning visual and theatrical treat. Strong acting, a brushed-up and polished script with freshened up score, and extraordinary staging ensure audiences, young and old, will be gripped from start to finish. There is always a danger with favourites such as Oz that we go and see it to be warmly hugged by the well-known; but this production really does look and feel very different, without losing touch with the original. There are a couple of elements that seem to me not to work well, but these do not detract from the fabulous whole.
Chisara Agor creates Dorothy. There’s a genuine sense of feisty adventure about her which works well. She has a rich singing voice and Over the Rainbow, the opening song, gently draws us into her mind. This is a Dorothy we are more than happy to follow.
Ed Wade’s Scarecrow is fabulous. Wade plays with consummate physical skill – and his concentration never wavers. He is thus, ever, endearingly vulnerable and his wit makes us care for him even more. We should also note Lorna Laidlaw. Her fortune-telling Professor is a comedic delight. And the Wizard’s final scene, in which diplomas, medals and other gifts are handed out, is saved from the danger of sentimentality by Laidlaw’s simple and impressive sincerity – and thus becomes one of the show’s great moments. This is definitely the scene in which handkerchiefs come out.
Jos Vantyler’s Wicked Witch is less successful. While the loud piercing voice is effective up to a point, the character lacks a wickedness growing from within. We never feel, therefore, the characters are truly under threat and a level of the show is missing.
The score as a whole has a marvellous modern feel while remaining entirely true to the original. At the moment, though, the band (wonderful playing) is mixed too far forward so clarity and impact of much vocal work is muddied.
Settings by Angela Davies are miraculous. In her scenography she has perfectly grasped the ephemeral quality of dream. A series of moving light-arches and gauzes suggest that if you touched this world it would disappear in your hand; wonderful.
A very great deal to enjoy.
The Lion: Kelly Agbowu
Dorothy: Chisara Agor
Ensemble: Rhys Batten
Ensemblee: Jade Davies
Ensemble: Luke Raser Yates
Auntie Em: Shanay Holmes
Professor Marvel / The Wizard of Oz: Lorna Laidlaw
Ensemble / Dance Captain: Zak Nemorin
Ensemble: Kerry Norville
Hickory / Tin Man: Dillon Soctt-Lewis
Ensemble: Elisha Sherman
Ensemble: Emily Squibb
Toto / Puppet Captain: Ben Thompson
Wicked Witch of the West: Jos Vantyler
Uncle Henry: Thomas Vernal
Scarecrow: Ed Wade
Director: Liam Steel
Assistant Director: Madeleine Kludje
Designer: Angela Davies
Costume and Puppet Designer: Samuel Wyre
Lighting Designer: Nick Richings
Sound Designer: Paul Groothuis
Music Director / Orchestrator: George Dyer
Illusionist: Ben Hart
Associate Choreographer: Matt Nicholson