The Wizard of Oz review – carnivalesque trip down the Yellow Brick Road

Curve, Leicester
Catwalk-ready costumes, expressive puppetry and a knockabout cast make this a fun, if rather cluttered, production

Even without the ubiquitous Wicked, there is no shortage of Frank L Baum-related theatre, from The Wiz in Manchester last Christmas to this year’s trips to Oz via Cardiff and Glasgow. Nikolai Foster’s carnivalesque take on the material (using the adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams) acknowledges this climate of overkill in an Emerald City metropolis crowded with billboards advertising The Wiz, Return to Oz and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. This is an in-joke too far – how can retellings of Dorothy’s adventures exist within this fictional world? – but it does demonstrate the challenge of standing out and not absorbing myriad other versions by Oz-mosis.

In Georgina Onuorah, the show has a winning Dorothy who shoulders the burdens of being witch-killer, life coach and liberator. Costumes and comedy are the strong suits, with Rachael Canning’s designs often combining the two. Her denizens of Oz are catwalk-ready in glittery jackets, ruched puffball dresses, even a giant chartreuse teddy bear’s head. Canning designed the puppets, too: not just the frolicking Toto, expressively manipulated by Ben Thompson, but the cawing crows worn on the heads of (and operated by) the company.

Christina Bianco as the good witch Glinda.
Christina Bianco as the good witch Glinda. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Glitching video evokes the technological smokescreen concealing the Wizard (Mark Peachey) but a bit less projected imagery overall might have left Colin Richmond’s sets more space to shine. His Yellow Brick Road is represented by glowing arrows that resemble fragments of an illuminated 1970s dancefloor, a nifty idea which would have felt sharper had the pieces tessellated.

The staging goes briefly awry during the death of the Wicked Witch of the West (Ellie Mitchell standing in for Charlotte Jaconelli on press night) when too many bodies and computer consoles, as well as flames that feel out of place during a scene of death-by-water, make it hard to discern what’s happening. The cast’s communicative powers, though, are never in doubt. There’s a knockabout Scarecrow (Jonny Fines), a precious Tin Man (Paul French) with a New Romantic fringe, and a highly-strung Lion (Giovanni Spanó) who takes umbrage hilariously at the line “I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow”. They capture the joy of being a friend of Dorothy.

• At Curve, Leicester, until 8 January.


Ryan Gilbey

The GuardianTramp

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