The Wizard of Oz review – follow this yellow brick road

Crucible, Sheffield
A superb staging of the L Frank Baum classic works its magic in plain view with picture-book clarity

Every good Christmas show has a transformation scene; The Wizard of Oz has many - from Kansas to Munchkinland to the Emerald City (via the yellow brick road, with its enchanted poppy field rendered harmless by a fall of snow) to the lair of the Wicked Witch of the West, and then the same in reverse. In a proscenium-arch style theatre, the main problem is how to make these changes spectacular. On the Crucible’s thrust stage, with the eyes of the audience viewing the action from almost every angle, the big question is how to make them at all.

Designer Janet Bird’s solution is genius (and satisfyingly echoes the style and colour palette of the iconic 1939 film, while rendering them its own). I long to describe it... I’m holding back, so as not to spoil the “Wow! I did not see that coming” surprise of it all. Suffice to say that almost every effect is achieved in full view (often with the help of the frequently on-stage chorus); we see how it’s done, and still we marvel. Here is very little jiggery-pokery trickery but a great deal of honest skill. And this is the keynote of Robert Hastie’s production – it rings true to L Frank Baum’s original 1900 story, with its homespun message that, if you want to find your heart’s desire, you best start by looking closely at what’s around you.

In the same way, all the performances combine picture-book clarity and emotional heft (a quality also of the live music, stunningly performed under Toby Higgins’s direction). To name a few among the many: Andrew Langtree’s brainless Scarecrow, spineless in his straw-floppy movements, is steadfast in friendship. As the Tinman without a heart, Max Parker may be puppet-jointed, but his facial expressions are often close to rust-threatening tears. The roar of Jonathan Broadbent’s cowardly lion resonates like an apologetic purr. All characterisations are beautifully focused by Ewan Jones’s choreography, which, like Bird’s designs, in riffing off the film goes beyond homage to become its own self and just right. But, the heart of the show is Gabrielle Brooks as Dorothy, expressing the perfect combination of innocence and wonder to carry us off into the shared dream of Oz.

Contributor

Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

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