The Wizard of OZ at Northern Stage

It’s Showtime!

Gingham pinafore dresses, over the rainbow and ‘lions and tigers and bears oh my!’ were nowhere to be seen, in this entertainingly wacky version of The Wizard of Oz by Northern Stage in Newcastle. A steady supply of witty one liners served to keep us adults chortling all the way through this alternative version of an old favourite, although most of these will have been well over the heads of the children in the audience.The whole set had the colourful feel of a slightly surreal circus which worked very well. Lighting and clever stage craft were used to maximum effect to represent the twister, the munchkins and the monsters.
Oz love in 
Updated right to 2015, Dorothy is now a bit of a tomboy with a lisp and a pair of dungarees who finds the ruby slippers all a bit girly. Toto has become a sock puppet dog with Tourette’s syndrome (one of the few gags which didn’t quite work) and everyone seems to hail from darkest Yorkshire rather than any where near Kansas, accent wise. Dorothy was very well played by Tessa Parr. It is always the job of the central character to hold things together and to maintain the suspension of disbelief, which takes some doing when things get as weird as they did in such a very modern Oz. Our Dorothy plays the necessary role of the straight man (straight girl?) but she also gets plenty of funny lines of her own.
Oil’s well that ends well…
 
 
Micheal Blair as the gay lion, recently returned from a gap year and with a fear of public speaking, was very endearing (as he was meant to be.) Being in love with his forest secretary squirrel was a new twist however. Willian Wynn Davies as the very well organised squirrel who gets held hostage at one point, was actually one of our favourite characters. ‘I don’t do violence! he squeaked ‘I’m in admin!’

 

It’s a forest affair

 The tin man ‘Nick Chopper’ was a very funny Carl Kennedy who, despite having bouts of raging campness – ‘gosh the lighting in here is so evocative,’ – was in love with a munchkin girl and addicted to oil. Apparently he was originally a man who had somehow managed to dismember himself with his own axe and then had been rebuilt in a bionic man type manner (a bit dark for the 7 year olds!)

Heartless chopper

I was less convinced by Maria Crocker’s clog dancing Geordie scarecrow but love love loved Zoe Lambert’s Wicked Witch of the West. Still satisfyingly green with a large hooked nose and pointy hat, she exuded pure energy and was more ‘out there’ even than the MGM original! At one point she spent a whole scene madly salsa dancing around the stage for no obvious reason but she made it work.  (For X factor aficionados – she ‘nailed’ it.) She hated her sister, proudly declaimed that ‘Good is BORING!’ and, not happy with the size of her current constituency in Oz, wanted to take the whole place over in typical psychotic dictator manner ‘I am sick of being niche!’ she cried. In a stand off with the good witch Glinda, a yoga loving, granola eating, lavender breeze perfumed cloud of sugary sweetness, she refused to back down. ‘We do not negotiate with nutritionists!’ I‘m still laughing at that now. It is always more fun to be the baddy.

 

Bad is so much more fun than good!

 

Alice Blundell was another big presence on stage as the good witch Glinda swinging in on a circus hoop, all sparkly shoes and dance skin tights. 

 

Militant mouses

We also loved the field mouse army who pooed out their own ammunition and tended towards aggressive military action at the slightest excuse with bazookas and the mouse version of Kalashnikovs. In the second half of the show things got a bit more confusing and the show could have benefited from losing twenty minutes or so as it as very long, especially for children. However all in all it was an absolute hoot, the Wizard of Oz on acid (as if it wasn’t the first time around!) I really can’t imagine what the seven pluses would have made of it but it certainly gave the forty pluses the most laughs they have had in some time. Catch The Wizard of Ox at Northern Stage until the 2nd January.

 

OZ – the first green city