My only other experience of a Birmingham Rep festive production was three years ago with a very lacklustre (and far too arty) The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. So, how did The Wizard of Oz compare?

The Wizard of Oz – Birmingham Repertory Theatre – 13 January 2019

In his programme notes, director Liam Steel states he didn’t want the production to be a carbon copy of the 1939 MGM musical (No problem there) while saying something about the world today. Now, I am a big advocate of updating films, TV, or stage shows into modern versions, but this wasn’t achieved here. With no clear vision, what we had was a mismatch of old and new which couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.

Yes, the cast were talented, and visual effects, despite being ambitious, paid off, especially the phantoms in the forest. But that’s where greatness ended. This was the end of the run and you would expect the cast to want to bow out with a bang. What you got, though, was a feeling of those on stage going through the motions.

One of the main problems is the original template which the team had to work with. The script is dull, my God, and I don’t mean mildly, either. Clunky dialogue was delivered too fast at times and I was thankful for the subtitles. And perhaps the memory cheats but I can’t remember the film being this boring. There are no sub-plots with scenes overly drawn out, making this a very long trip to the Emerald City. Into Act Two, with surreal moments meeting the Jitterbugs and Winkies (Yes … I know), this wasn’t enough to stop one of my party falling asleep.

Performances were okay but I had little or no empathy with the characters. When watching a stage performance I like to be drawn into that world, something which should come easy with The Wizard of Oz. But I had none of that.

I expected the show to be colourful and fast-paced. Instead it was drab and tedious. Costumes appeared to have come from a charity shop and whether this was an intentional concept, all it succeeded was to give the impression of cheap. And why was the Lion dressed to look like an Oompa Loompa?

One other point, we had a lovely little dog playing Toto in Kansas, however, when transported to Oz, the live dog was replaced by a puppet. Nice idea but the puppet did nothing bar hang around in the background looking neither funny or clever.

Something of interest to also note: We are told at the end Miss Gulch has broken her arm (or leg. By now I didn’t care). Well, if that’s the case, she still has the court order and is free to come and kill Toto when she recovers.

Musical direction was by George Dyer. However, I felt the orchestra was subdued at times and lost underneath the vocals. Also, there seemed little choreography. Very disappointing.

Playing Dorothy (whose Kansas accent disappeared after twenty minutes) was Chrisara Ago. Other cast members included Kelly Agbowu (Lion), Ed Wade (Scarecrow), Dillion Scott-Lewis (Tin Man), Lorna Laidlaw (Wizard), Jos Vantyler (Wicked Witch of the West), Thomas Vernal (Oz Guard) and Shanay Holmes (Aunty Em).

So, a second chance at the Rep for a festive show and a second dud. Don’t think I’ll try again.

The Wizard of Oz – Birmingham Repertory Theatre – 13 January 2019

Cheers.

 

Antony N Britt

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