It’s a brave theatre company that decides to confound the audience expectations that the title inevitably prompts and not stage the MGM version. Brave? Foolhardy perhaps? Whatever, the Octagon is treading its own yellow brick road this Christmas with a version created by a team of writers from the theatre’s Incubate new writing programme.
Dorothy has been moved from Kansas to Bolton and up dated to the present day, where she hates the grimy old town while yeaning desperately for a pair of trainers.This works rather well, clearly connecting young audiences with the story from the very beginning and bringing them back to the town’s soggy earth at the end with the message that perhaps life in this forsaken neck of the woods isn’t that bad after all.
The middle section is pretty much the tale as before, with Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion joining Dorothy as she journeys to find a Wizard who proves to be not at all what everyone expects.
But there’s no "Over The Rainbow" or "We’re Off To See The Wizard", instead there’s a new score by Octagon regular Barbara Hockaday. If I could have heard it properly, perhaps it would have sounded better than it did but there’s no amplification and voices are lost, lyrics heard only in snatches. As it was, I could discern nothing I wanted to hear anyway and judging by their restlessness, many of the young matinee audience agreed. It’s all a great deal better when the music stops and the story and action resumes.
Staged in the round, on a floor awash with flashing stars and with various surprises scattered around the back walls of the auditorium, visually it’s quite lively and the company of seven (augmented by half a dozen children as assorted Munckhkins and monkeys) work hard, led by a very likable Ellie Paskell as Dorothy.
At the matinee I attended, only towards the very end, when there is a chance to clap along, did the show really begin to connect firmly enough with an audience ready and waiting to enter into the spirit of things but not given enough opportunity to do so.
- Alan Hulme