Open wide! Come inside! It’s … The Wizard of Oz, after a fashion.
We enter the theatre space through a set straight out of Play School, with six of the characters that the Friends of Dorothy know so well, dressed in authentic-looking costumes (well done, Simone Romaniuk) romping around on a meadow of Astroturf, with only Margi Brown-Ash visible through the square window of the play house. She’s playing — well, who can be sure? Aunt Em perhaps, as well as Toto the dog, well-upholstered in a middle-aged frock, tottery high heel-less shoes, a collar and lead attached to her back rather than her neck, a cigar and, later, a black dog’s head.
So let the story begin. For it is, after all, only a story, as Brown-Ash reminds us from the storybook she carries around with her. Which is just as well, for it’s not a story we recognise, nor is it meant to be. Steven Mitchell Wright, playwright Maxine Mellor and The Danger Ensemble have wisely decided not to attempt a re-write of the iconic book/film, but have used the characters to examine instead the nature of story itself, the difference between a memory play and a dream play.
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It’s a cunning move, because nobody can criticise the concept, or that the fact that nobody sings Somewhere Over The Rainbow — and for this relief, much thanks. We are left with the ensemble’s personal construct/s, and all a reviewer can do is to say whether it worked. For me, who always tries to work against the Grumpy Old Reviewer stereotype, it was like the curate’s egg, good in patches.
I hated the music (sorry Dane Alexander) but that’s a generation thing. I loved the two actors who played who I think were the Wizard himself (all that green hair and a lime green suit) and the Wicked Witch of the choose-your-own-Point-of-the-Compass, and I especially loved the Darth Vader headdress that the Wizard wore to dazzle everyone with his brilliance. I wasn’t so sure about the three farm workers — Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion — as Munchkins in bad drag straight out of a high camp cabaret at one point, nor the naked blow-up sex doll complete with all her bits that was the “Wicked Witch is Dead” character.
I laughed more than I blocked my ears, which is an achievement for me, but I found the high-octane philosophical musings rather pretentious, interfering as they did with the roll-over rhythm of the action.
As madcap theatre it was fantastic, and set, costumes, music and lighting worked admirably to make a jolly romp. But as a piece that gave you something to grab onto, to think about, I have to agree with T S Eliot: “Between the idea and the reality … between the conception and the creation falls the Shadow.” My problem is that I can’t pin the Shadow down.
But that’s in the nature of Shadows. Of one thing only can we be sure, Toto: we’re not in Kansas any more.
So let’s give the last word to Judy Garland, as the program notes do: “It’s strange when an illusion dies. It’s as though you’ve lost a child.”
The details: The Wizard Of Oz plays La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre until September 28. Tickets on the company website.