‘PLEEEASE can we come again?’ begged the voice behind me as I left Storyhouse one night last week, ‘Dad, THAT was absolutely A M A Z I N G!’
No, it wasn’t Craig Revel Horwood reviewing Stacey Dooley, after her last dance on Strictly. It was a little girl of about 7, trotting out of our very own Theatre, with her grinning family, after seeing The Wizard of Oz.
The Dad was singing: ‘I’m Off To See The Wizard…’ as he attempted to locate his car keys in his pockets, while the teenage boy, forgetting his usual ‘studied in-the-mirror’ coolness, roared like a lion, pirouetted on the pavement and yelled: “YEY!” at anyone passing. And the pretty mum, carrying all the palaver of anoraks etc. smiled broadly, looked at me and said: ‘Wasn’t that JUST wonderful!?’
It was! That family weren’t exaggerating. I too loved every minute of Storyhouse’s The Wizard Of Oz, directed by Alex Clifton. And from what I saw and heard of the audience, we were all of one mind. It’s a tonic for all…and don’t we need some sort of magic tonic sprinkled around this particular December? This production is sheer unbridled pleasure to be enjoyed by all ages… and Chester must feel inordinately proud of such a remarkable show.
Where to start? Impossible to pick highlights in this enthralling experience. Visual and auditory treats abound, such as whirling tornados, masses of scarlet poppies, flying monkeys, blazing broomsticks, ruby red slippers, little houses lowered from the skies…and a stage that constantly zings with excitement and colour, vibrant singing and vigorous dancing. The sets are glorious, brought alive through skilful sound and lighting design, so we have Kansas, the Yellow Brick Road and The Emerald City, right here in Chester. And I can’t forget the gorgeous real-life dog, wowing the audience, while the fabulous Orchestra, with conductor and baton, thrilled throughout.
The individual characters are hugely talented and very entertaining. We empathised with Dorothy (lively Consuella Rolle), with her big eyes and equally big voice, as she embarked on her arduous journey from Home to Oz. We marvelled at The Scarecrow (ebullient Natalie Woods) who lost her poor heart and we felt for the Tin Man, who was missing his brain (talented Ben Oliver) whilst also falling for the lovable crowd-pleaser, The Lion, desperate to find courage ( Ricard Colvin) and managing to enlist the willing audience in hilarious fashion.
And very special mention must go to Zara Ramm who, as The Wicked Witch Of The West, totally bewitched the entire Storyhouse audience with her darkly dramatic looks, her voice and her witch-like movements. She is pricelessly SCARY!
And yes, the dancing! Chester’s “House Of Dance” (ages 8-14) excelled, with both dancing and singing. We’ll never forget those Munchkins! What confidence, what expertise. Three children around me rose up in their seats and performed with them. One yelled: ‘Mum! I want to be a Munchkin!’ and much amicable laughter ensued. There was also a fabulous Community Ensemble and also 3 trainee actors, their inclusion being the generous on-going philosophy of Storyhouse.
And yes, it’s important to me, and doubtlessly to lots of the audience, that Storyhouse’s production, although upbeat and very much of 2018, adheres beautifully to the traditional messages and themes in the classic Wizard of Oz. It’s a coming of age tale for Dorothy. She’s fearful for herself, her dog and those fabulous characters she meets, believing constantly that the Wicked Witch of The West will bring disaster. And there’s the constant longing for home, the lovely friendships shared between four very different people…particularly thought-provoking in today’s complex world. And there are the themes of self-sufficiency, perseverance… and the wonderful realisation of people’s hidden talents and strengths.
And of course, there’s the age-old theme of Good versus Evil. I still recall the first time I heard the Wicked Witch of The West screech out: ‘HOW can such a good little girl like you destroy all my BEAUTIFUL WICKEDNESS!” I loved it. My very young self felt totally empowered.
So the sum of all parts equals one mass highlight: i.e.a spectacular show here in Chester telling an almost eighty-year-old story that has long appealed to generations.
My own grandma lived in a house overlooking Pendle Hill, where the Lancashire witches lived. As a child, I always expected to meet the Wizard of Oz every time we climbed Pendle Hill. Of course, we didn’t, but as we climbed, my folks and Grandma always sang about the Yellow Brick Road… not just to placate us, but because they enjoyed it too.
So The Wizard is part of me, as it must be for so many, and this Wizard at Storyhouse took me back to my past, engrossed me in my present and opens up my future…when my grandchildren see it on Christmas Eve.
At Storyhouse until SUN JAN 7th 2019.