The QT

Saturday 15 June 2024

Review: Wizard of Oz

A new production of The Wizard of Oz has everything you would expect and a lot more besides. Alison Carr reports back from Emerald City
Scene from The Wizard of Oz. Credit: Marc Brenner

It’s 124 years since L Frank Baum’s children’s fantasy novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, and eighty-five since MGM committed to celluloid the tale of a young farm girl whose life spins from monochrome to technicolor.

Over those years, it’s safe to say that The Wizard of Oz has cemented its place in popular culture. Even if you don’t think you know it, you know it. Whether it be a visual like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, a song like Somewhere Over The Rainbow, or one of its lines – “there’s no place like home”.

So I went into this new UK tour version feeling like I knew what to expect, and the story is, of course, the story. Gingham-clad dreamer Dorothy Gale (Aviva Tulley) is swept up in a tornado off to the magical land of Oz where she sets off along the yellow brick road with a trio of oddballs.  

But Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore because this manages to give you everything you know and want but still makes it feel new and fresh.

The Wizard of Oz is at Newcastle Theatre Royal this week. Credit: Marc Brenner

Once Depression Era Kansas transforms into the Land of Oz, it’s full steam ahead for a big, bright and brash adventure.

I’ve written in my notes “retro, steampunk, trippy’ to describe the aesthetic, and I stand by it. Good Witch Glinda doesn’t float down in a bubble, but glides on astride a gleaming pink vespa. The yellow brick road is brought to life using ever-moving flashing yellow arrows, and the Emerald City is a green and pink fever dream.

The set design, video, lights, costumes – it all works to create a kitsch, loud, colourful world that is loads of fun.

Tulley’s Dorothy is the right amount of plucky and sincere. Her beautiful ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ was delivered to pin-drop silence in the theatre.

She gets strong support from the ragtag friends she makes along the way – Benjamin Yates as the Scarecrow, Femi Akinfolarin as the Tin Man and Nic Greenshields as the Cowardly Lion. Greenshields is very funny as the definitive scaredy cat, his performance owing a lot to Bert Lahr (who played the role in the film). But hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore because this manages to give you everything you know and want but still makes it feel new and fresh.

The Vivienne is clearly having a blast as the Wicked Witch of the West. Her snarling and cackling green-skinned baddie is a bit Margaret Hamilton meets Joan Crawford meets Panto villain, and she delivers her number Red Shoe Blues (one of the extra songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice) with power and relish.

Special mention also to Abigail Matthews whose puppeteering brings little dog Toto to life with such skill that it’s easy to forget she’s there (no offence, that’s a compliment).

This review is way longer than I intended, but it’s all to say that it’s really good.

And you don’t need to get whipped up in tornado that destroys your house and kills a witch to see it. Just, like, get the bus or something and head to the Theatre Royal where it’s on until Sunday.


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