Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A wizard of a show

Off to see the wizard: Dorothy (Sarah Evans) with the cowardly lion (David Mann), the scarecrow with no brain (Simon Burgess) and the tin woodman with no heart (Luke Hopson)

The Wizard of Oz

The Arcadians

The Crescent Theatre


THE tin-man might not have had a heart but this production certainly does – and plenty of courage to take on such a technically demanding show.

The script, the 1987 RSC version,  is based on the 1939 film with all the familiar songs with the best, Over the Rainbow, appearing and being done and dusted in the opening scene before the audience have hardly had time to settle down and open their Maltesers.

Sarah Evans is a most creditable Dorothy in the obligatory Judy Garland uniform of Kansas farm girl and has a fine, easy to listen to singing voice and pleasant, confident manner. It is a big part with Dorothy having to drive the show along which she does in some style.

The real stars though are the misfits she picks up along the way with Simon Burgess superb as the wobbly-limbed scarecrow while David Mann's cowardly lion was a comic delight.

Rattling along between them was Luke Hopson as the Tin Woodman withe the wayward axe who must have been baking in his silver costume.

There were sterling contributions too from Frank Foley as Uncle Henry and the Emerald City Guard and Rob Houghton as the rather vague Professor Marvel and the even vaguer Wizard of Oz while Sonya Williams bustled about industriously as Aunt Em.

Claire Best was suitably evil as Miss Gultch and the Wicked Witch of the West while Gabby Thompson gave us a sweet Glinda,  good witch of the North – even if she did look a little unsure about the guarantee on the flying wires at times.

The Wicked Witch of the West (Claire Best) puts the frighteners on the cast watched by Dorothy (Sarah Evans) and Glinda (Gabby Thompson)

As for the rest? A cast of thousands! It is a show which has the scope to give almost everyone a go and director Clare Fray packed them in with a cast of more than 50, including 24 from L'Arcs, the junior section. It might mean more work for the costume department under Miriam Blackburn but it does mean that a large number of people can be part of a show – which is why they are in amateur theatre in the first place.

The enthusiasm of some of the youngsters, particularly the two little lads in pyjamas, was a joy to behold. Amateur theatre should be fun and they were having the time of their lives.

A word too for long haired Chihuahua Bluebell, who played Toto without putting a paw wrong – although in the final scene she was taking an interest in the world beyond her basket, stardom was beckoning.  Come Saturday I suspect she will be demanding her own scene, with perhaps a song or two thrown in. 

Director Fray also did well with the tornado scene. It is difficult enough for a professional show with a big budget to conjure up a realistic tornado on stage so for an amateur group it is a challenge which they rose to well with a spinning light disc and figures blown helplessly, or so it cleverly seemed, across the stage. The scene produced a well-deserved round of applause.

Praise too for musical director Lauren Coles who conducted an excellent 11-piece band down in the pit and had obviously worked hard on making some of the big numbers such as If I only Had a Heart, If I only Had a Brain and If I only Had the Nerve (is there a pattern emerging here?) so slick and enjoyable.

Not that it was all good though. Dialogue was lost at times, drowned by music or just indistinct while I suspect I was not alone in not having a clue what any of the crows said. There were a couple of jokes in there from their laughs but what they were is a mystery. The funny noses as beaks might look the part but not if no one understands a word they squawk.

And If we are going to be critical the pace dropped off in the second half not helped by some long scene changes with a silent, dark stage which all tends to prevent any momentum building and making scenes episodic rather than a smooth progression.

I must admit I have always been uneasy about The Wizard of Oz as a stage show – although it was a play more than 30 years before it became a film. The film is so well known it is hard, some would say foolhardy, to stray too far from the well-worn script which demands special effects and lots of scene changes - 19 in this production.

The last version I saw was a much publicised big budget South Bank production in London which was dire – the journey along the yellow brick road having roadworks and a 15 mile tailback, or so it seemed sitting through it.

This production leaves that one trailing far behind in its considerable wake and although it might not have convinced me that the stage is now the wizard's natural home it certainly puts forward a strong case for giving him visiting rights. A terrific effort with bags of charm and enthusiasm and some lovely touches. To 06-10-12.

Roger Clarke 

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