The Wizard of Oz at Leeds Playhouse review

If you’re looking for heartwarming joy, then you’ve come to the right place. The Wizard of Oz follows the endlessly adorable story of the feisty Dorothy. When her horrid neighbour threatens to kill her dog Toto (I mean, seriously, what a witch), she feels totally betrayed by her friends and family and runs away. Enter Professor Marvel, a traveller who tells her she ought to go home. Caught up in a storm as she heads back to her family, Dorothy finds herself a very long way away from Kansas. Her only hope of getting back is to visit the great and powerful Wizard of Oz… but is he all that he seems?

Dorothy makes friends along the way who help her defeat the tiresomely evil Wicked Witch of the West. And, after all that, it turns out the good witch Glinda she met at the very start of her adventure could’ve told her to click her ruby slippers the whole damn time. Ah well, it’s about the journey not the destination.

Lucy Sherman delivers a stellar performance of Dorothy, bringing vulnerability and fire to the part. She matches up effortlessly with the cast of professional actors, commanding the stage with her innocent yet never naive portrayal of this classic character. Toto is just AMAZING, and irresistibly cute. The puppet version is necessary, and Ailsa Dalling does a great job of bringing him to life, but it’s not the same as a real life adorable dog!

The rest of the cast are great, and I know I’ve really grown to care about them because I cry relentlessly during the end scene. There’s Marcus Ayton as the Lion (though he doesn’t always know exactly the direction of his character, his comedic persona and presence is great), Eleanor Sutton as the lovable Scarecrow and Sam Harrison as the tin man (who provides a predictable and rather forced Leeds Playhouse strike for inclusivity/diversity).  Polly Lister as the Wicked Witch flails from panto queen to buffoon to sass with little heads up as to how she’ll play each scene. It’s confusing and means she’s not so much villain, as minor inconvenience, and I’ve no problem being convinced Dorothy and her motley crew will be able to defeat her.

The direction from James Brining is a little erratic all round. Some costumes are traditional, others less so. We find the lion in a boxing ring-style living room in the middle of a forrest. Yet the Wicked Witch’s lair is exactly as predicted. It’s neither a modernised adaptation or true to the original film’s style, which leaves it falling between both. The set and costumes by Simon Higlett is inventive and fresh, with incredible use of projection adding sparkles of magic to the production. Despite there being dozens of cast members, there doesn’t seem to be enough people to fill the stage at times, leaving the stage feeling a little bare. This is a minor problem though and doesn’t detract from the talented cast and ensemble.

In a final mention, the orchestra led by Tamara Saringer are simply sublime. It’s fantastic to see them get a huge round of applause as they wave to the audience via video projection at the end – I often feel musicians don’t get enough credit for the incredibly artistry they provide.

Overall this is a beautifully creative production of a classic, perfect for the whole family to enjoy.

Catch The Wizard of Oz at Leeds Playhouse until 25th January.

Photograph credited to The Other Richard

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