by Charlotte Ndupuechi.
I remember watching the film The Wizard of Oz as a child and being totally mesmerised when Dorothy landed in Oz and her world exploded into colour. This was very much like the panto experience. It was full of colour, laughter, and joy- just what we need at this time of year.
The story, as I’m sure most people know, is of Dorothy and her friends as they follow the Yellow Brick Road to meet the Wizard of Oz in the hope he will grant their wishes.
Written and directed by James Barry, with original music by Simon Slater this is just what you want from a panto, loaded with corny jokes, great characters, and lots and lots of audience participation : “oh yes it is!”.
A well-cast Dorothy is played by Abigale Coy. She manages to keep her Kansas accent even when those around her seem to be from all parts of the UK. Dorothy is joined by a lovable Lion (Julian Eardley), a Scarecrow (Max Gallagher) and Rusty (Libby Gore) who are delightful to watch.
The opening scene is called a meeting of witches, which sets the tone. An instant divide of good and evil, and lots of chances to ‘boo!’. Both actors were fabulous. The Good Witch Glinda, played by Katie Stasi, added swagger and interest to what can be quite a dull part. Ellie McMahon, as the Wicked Witch of the West, was everything you wanted her to be, full of stage presence and oozing wickedness. I also loved her questioning our disapproval. She said, “Dorothy has dropped a house on my sister and you’re booing me?”.
The naughty monkeys did a great job of scratching their bums and picking their noses, which my eight-year-old found especially amusing.
There was much discussion from my family before the show as to how they were going to ‘do’ Toto. A puppet? A real dog? A toy one? It was done very amusingly in all those ways, changing in different scenes. Lilly, a real dog appeared on stage at some points, and a range of stuffed Totos at other points.
The performance focuses on the story telling, which some pantos can lose. As a big fan of the Wizard of Oz I was pleased to see that the narrative of the story was retained. The key themes of a journey, friendship and searching for the things we feel we are missing are all there.
The ‘great’ and ‘powerful’ Wizard of Oz is revealed to be nothing but a mortal and we all have the power within us to grant our own wishes. This is a wonderful message, and maybe is one of the reasons why this story has continued to delight the generations for over 100 years.
In the programme, there is a section on the history of the theatre, the original story by L Frank Baum, and puzzles, as well as the usual information about the cast and crew. It’s well worth picking one up to help support the theatre if you can, especially as they have just lost out on funding from Arts Council England.
It is advertised as a ‘traditional family pantomime’ and does exactly what it says on the tin. Suitable for all ages, with tickets starting from a very reasonable £10.50. They offer accessible performances with BSL, relaxed and audio-described shows, so it is worth checking out the website for more information on those if needed. You can even watch from the comfort of your own home and live stream it for just £20.
The Wizard of Oz will be at Theatre Royal Winchester until Monday 2 January 2023. For more information or to book tickets visit theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk or call 01962 840 440.
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