The classic 1939 film of The Wizard of Oz is such a regular fixture in television schedules that never to have seen it could be regarded as some sort of achievement.
Nonetheless, for anyone who has managed to avoid it, here is a brief plot
summary: Dorothy (engagingly played by Helena Blackman), runs away from home in an ill-considered and ill-fated attempt to save her dog Toto from the clutches of the malevolent Miss Gultch. Unable to shelter from a tornado, she and Toto are blown into a very different world, and told that the only way to return to her Kansas home is to get help from the Wizard of Oz. On her journey she is aided by a Scarecrow (Tom Bradley), a Tin Man (Jez Unwin), a cowardly Lion (Horace Oliver) and the Good Witch, Glinda (Jacqui Dubois); but her quest is threatened by the Wicked Witch of the West (the flamboyant Ceri Dupree).
In this production, Dorothy still wears a gingham pinafore and the classic songs are beautifully rendered, but there are more modern references which work well – the crows sport teddy boy quiffs, the Good Witch glides around on a pink Vespa, and when Dorothy meets the Lion he is working as a night club bouncer.
Sound, lighting and production design is first-rate, particularly in conveying the tornado’s noise, power and danger. Projected images, including CGI of an airborne cow, are used to link scenes, but do not detract from the live action.
The performances are uniformly strong and the singing excellent, so musical fans should be well-satisfied. It may be a little too scary for very small children, but while not typical pantomime fare, it will be hard to find a more hissable or glamorous villain this Christmas than Dupree’s Wicked Witch.
This is the Leicester Haymarket’s final production: although the replacement theatre is due to open in 2008 in the city’s newly-designated cultural quarter, it is not likely to keep the Haymarket name.
Adapting a much-loved film for the stage risks disappointment for the movie’s committed fans – it clearly can’t be a facsimile, but radical changes will alienate the audience. This production achieves the balance of familiarity with design and production updates, and is a worthy swansong for a great innovative and popular theatre.