The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Theatre Royal, Bury
When deciding to create a work for theatre, producers have a few paths they can follow. New work created from scratch can be expensive and may not result in critical acclaim nor, more importantly, ticket sales. Repeating a tried-and-true tale and fitting your available talent into the mold is relatively safe, should result is moderate box office success, but does lack originality. Then there is the adaptation route, take a well-known story and adapt it to your available resources, whilst at the same time giving scope for originality.
Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds chose the adaptation route for their summer production: ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz‘ written by L. Frank Baum and adapted by Mike Akers and made possible by Theatre Royal’s Commissioning Circle. By adapting this story, it allowed the play to include the theatre’s most precious resource, its community actors, and its youth players.
It tells the story of Dorothy and her trusty dog Toto who live in Suffolk, Stowmarket to be precise, and their unexpected journey to The Emerald City where Green is King – a pun not lost on those who know the history or the location of the theatre.
The professional cast was led by Nicola Bryan, who played the roles of Aunt Em and The West Witch. Both, if not evil, definitely dislikeable characters and played to perfection. Had this been Panto there would have been much booing and hissing. Michale Lambourne played a very believable Uncle Henry and once revealed, a most hilarious Oz.
Darcy Manning as Dorothy, playing at her local theatre, is both delightful and believable as she battles her emotions along the journey. Her beautiful singing voice well worth the admission price alone. French actor Ronan Quiniou narrates the whole story as Toto, switching effortlessly from trilingual narrator to barking dog. Daniel Walford’s ingenious Tin Man costume, with steampunk overtones, allowed him a freedom of movement to fully entertain with his robotic street dance style.
In league with the professionals were the community actors: Jasmine Briggs (Scarecrow and Weather Girl), Andi Dodds (Mum and North Witch), Wendy Hamilton (The Major) and Eloise Probitts (The Lion). Each appeared totally at home playing alongside the professionals.
In this production, regardless of what the adults do on stage, the stars of the show for the Mums, Dads and Grandparents in the audience will be the youngsters – The Young Company who become – a varying times – munchkins, trees, crows and flying monkeys. One having to put up with Toto doing what all dogs do when they see a tree!
Quite apart from the cast’s performances the ingenious set provided much entertainment. The rotating central dais allowing the actors to walk, dance and move along without ever leaving center stage. The dance routines in particular involved such teamwork that I suspect somewhere in an office in the theatre are outtake clips of when it all went horribly and hilariously wrong – but on the night it worked to perfection.
Hats off to all involved in making this wonderful production happen. It is ingeniously created in such a way as to give amatuers the opportunity to play alongside professionals, as Owen Calvert-Jones said before the show: “…some of those on stage tonight have come from the West End, others from Year 6.”
This type of work is vital for theatre. If you are a musician or budding comedian there are opportunities for you to learn your craft at open mic nights – there are many included in Grapevine’s listings. But what if you want to act? Where do you go to experience what it is like and decide if acting is for you? How do you get to experience what it is like to work with sound engineers, lighting technicians, make up artists, costume designers?
There are at least two reasons to go and see this show (which runs until 2nd September). In the first place it is a fine production, but far more importantly, it is ensuring the future of theatre.