If you’re looking for something with as much cheese as Park End, The Wizard of Oz is the one to see. I last watched it when I was about eight and the average age of the audience suggested it’s not the obvious choice for the discerning Oxford student who is normally only to be seen at deep, soul-searching plays. But we all need a break, so close your books for a few hours and go and see a musical which will utterly empty your mind of anything vaguely academic.
This is an Oxfordshire Youth Music Theatre production, so whilst you probably won’t see any of your friends in it, the actors form an enthusiastic and lively cast. Hannah Tompkins is the perfect Dorothy – a goody goody (sparkly-red) two-shoes and West-end worthy singer. Remi King also does a stellar job, bringing much humour to the stage in his role as the cowardly lion.
But this is a show and more arguably rests on the scenery, costuming and musical numbers than any individual actor’s talent. The scenery was disappointing; the pastel-coloured cardboard cut-out backgrounds making me feel more like I was in a children’s picture book rather than surrounded by the magic of Oz. The scene in the poppy-field was a memorable exception, with a hauntingly lit background and actors draped in sheets of poppies as snow fell, giving the scene an eerily beautiful twist. As for the costumes, they could have come from a children’s dressing-up catalogue – the lion’s costume looked like the kind of onesie someone would sweat through a bop in. On the whole, the cast’s singing was too quiet and lyrics were drowned out by the orchestra’s music. Mind you, considering how trite the song lyrics are, this was no great loss. However, the dancing was impressive – particularly the Jitterbug dance which was made especially memorable by the cast’s glow-in-the-dark costumes. Another disappointment was Toto. Bridie Sheppard’s puppeteering was undoubtedly impressive but her presence on stage as she carted Toto around was somewhat irritating and Toto himself was too small for Sheppard’s work to be fully appreciated.
Basic scenery and costuming prevent anyone from equating this with a West-end production – but The Wizard of Oz is still worth seeing. The singing and acting are on target and, more than anything, this is the perfect opportunity to release your inner child as you hum along to classics like Over the Rainbow and We’re Off to See the Wizard. Pretend Oxford doesn’t do exams and indulge yourself by seeing this show.
PHOTO / Oxford Playhouse