Being unable to attend Press Night can have its compensations. Instead I found myself at a mid-morning performance sharing a pretty full theatre with a few hundred primary and below pupils. The organised chaos of the opening – cast members doing last minute sweeping up, playing carols on trumpet and euphonium and leading the audience in a sing-song – was enhanced by late arrivals and early toilet-breakers crossing the stage. The whole show has a nice informality – the theatre aisles well used in the production – and, though a touch overlong for the target age (70 minutes before the interval is pushing it), keeps the goodwill of the young audience.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a modified version of last year’s Octagon, Bolton, production, with the same director, Elizabeth Newman, and creative team, but a totally different cast and a well-tweaked script. Dorothy is whisked away from Hull by one of the rare twisters in the East Riding (Hull being a place where hurricanes hardly ever happen), but apart from the geography and updating of the framing scenes, it’s a pretty straightforward simplification of the original story.
The script appears to be by multiple hands, developed and edited by Newman, and in truth is not the play’s strength. Barbara Hockaday, composer/musical director, has to struggle with a long shadow cast by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg – when subjects overlap such as the yellow brick road or the Scarecrow’s lack of brain the original won’t go away – but there are plenty of enjoyable songs in a variety of styles. Best of all (and I write this increasingly often these days) the actors show great versatility and ability as musicians, with the aid of Hockaday’s clever arrangements. Interesting to read in the programme that Dyfrig Morris, an engaging Wizard, “also plays the drums professionally when not acting” – and it shows!
The characters around Dorothy are all amiably played (except the Wicked Witch of the West!), with Lindsay Ashworth’s borderline incompetent Good Witch of the North and Stephen Lloyd’s word-mangling Scarecrow particularly entertaining. Dominique Jackson is perfect casting as Dorothy, on a charming and energetic journey from stereotypical stroppy teenager to bravely independent young woman to cheerleader for home and family.
The youngsters who see to Munchkins, Flying Monkeys, etc., are unfailingly excellent – both as a troupe and delivering individual lines with sense and clarity – and Elizabeth Wright’s set designs for Oz have an appropriate air of the fairground, with a prominent and much-used bandstand.
The WonderfulWizard of Oz runs at Hull Truck Theatre until 13 January 2013. For further information visit www.hulltruck.co.uk