Guest Reviewer: Ciaran Ward
The Wizard of Oz gains a fresh reinterpretation with Regal Entertainment Ltd’s production of the classic musical, whilst retaining many of the theatrical characteristics that have made it a much-loved family tale for almost eighty years. The intermingling of recent pop music, such as Pitbull’s ‘Timber’, with original numbers, such as ‘Over the Rainbow’, maintains the appeal for younger members of the audience, whilst ensuring that they experience the tale as it was intended in the 1939 film.
From the play’s inception, the awe of the audience is assured owing to the surprise performance of ‘Pure Imagination’ by Fiyero (played by Richard Hazlewood) – a song that, whilst not belonging to this play, ultimately epitomises the sense of wonder that befalls both the characters and the audience as the narrative progresses. Hence, the genre is defined as being equally a musical, as it is a pantomime; the catchy refrains go hand-in-hand with the myriad boos and hisses whenever Cheryl Fergison’s antagonistic, Wicked Witch of the West, graces the stage.
The ability for children to comprehend the plot and action throughout is upheld. Many sat giggling at the Scarecrow’s (portrayed by David Heath) bumbling antics, with some even cowering at the sight of the Flying Monkey (performed also, by Richard Hazlewood) as he snatches away the play’s three other principal characters: Maddie Hope Coelho’s Dorothy, Phillip McGuinness’ robotic Tin Man and Simon Foster’s Cowardly Lion.
Adults too, share the ability to comprehend, with lurid innuendos, at times, distracting from the principal scene action, along with tiresome allusions to Fergison’s portrayal of EastEnders’ Heather Trott. One reference was to be expected, with the Wicked Witch being named Eva (pronounced ‘Eather), but the predictable hints soon cheapened the enchanting, artistic direction that Chantelle Nolan applied. A few ill-timed sound effects, and low-resolution CGI during the tornado scene, also negated the theatricality, with the latter being a perfect opportunity for Lighting Designer, Darren Paine, and Sound Technician, Conrad Kemp, to provide a staged alternative requisite for the medium.
However, given that a pantomime is fundamentally a children’s genre, the production’s shortcomings are starkly disregarded in the face of this being a delightful introduction to the world of theatre for the next generation, whilst a lyrically-altered rendition of Little Mix’s ‘Black Magic’, performed by a former soap-star in a booming contralto, is sure to remain in the consciousness of the older generations for the foreseeable future.
The Wizard of Oz runs at Stockport Plaza until Saturday 12th August 2017.