18
Sep
13

Brisbane Festival: The Wizard of Oz

 

The Wizard of Oz
Presented by La Boite, The Danger Ensemble & Brisbane Festival
Roundhouse Theatre
7 – 28 of September 2013

 

Reviewed by Guy Frawley

 

 

Image by Morgan Roberts

 

 

The Wizard of Oz is not so much a modern retelling of the classic story as an entirely new piece of theatre that has borrowed extensively from the L. Frank Baum novel and MGM film of the same name. There’s Dorothy and Toto and even a yellow brick road, but this story as created by Maxine Mellor in the world premiere of her new play, is definitely not the tale you were raised with.

 

In a saccharine coloured fantasy land the cast and crew bring to life Mellor’s gaudy fantasy, with Margi Brown Ash taking the spotlight as ‘Judy, Goddamnit!’. Brown Ash revels in the role and gives a diva worthy layered performance. Judy Garland, an aged Dorothy, a mentally ill mother, a faded remnant of a star attempting to claw her way back to her halcyon days. Much of the humour in The Wizard of Oz is dependent on Judy G, and Brown Ash carries this easily; her sense of timing and characterisation is spot on and I enjoyed watching her immensely.

 

Polly Sara’s Wicked Witch of the West presents us a refreshed version of the classic MGM Wicked Witch who appears to have just flown in on her broomstick after a sojourn at the Haus of Gaga. Her performance crackled with a vicious darkness that balanced the obvious camp sensibilities of such a role. Sara also provided the performance with two of its musical numbers, the first of which became a part of the tornado carrying Judy G to Oz and was utilised to great effect. Sara’s voice is powerful and sonorous and set the tone for the rest of her performance. Her second number, Regina Spektor’s All the Rowboats, whilst sung well didn’t seem to have any point.

 

Steven Mitchell Wright as director, presents us with a hyper stylised, fluro-coloured Land of Oz for his players to inhabit. His use of the space, from the moment the audience enters the theatre through the set to the inward facing finale, was excellent and helped to create an aesthetic akin to a pop-up book on acid. This same sense of psychedelic reality is found throughout the performance and not always to the show’s benefit.

 

Certain directorial choices (some of the musical numbers, an explosive vomiting scene, a blow up sex doll) offer style and pizazz but at the expense of purpose or meaning.

 

I do wonder how much of this was done on purpose though, one of the central parts of The Wizard of Oz show the Wicked Witch and the Wizard atop a platform (pulpit? throne room?) engaged in a duologue devised to philosophy. The more you hear though, the more you start to wonder platitude or profundity? Are these snippets of deep wisdom or did I read that last week on a Pinterest inspiration board?

 

The performances from Thomas Larkin (Scarecrow), Thomas Hutchins (Tin Man) and Lucy-Ann Langkilde (Lion) bubbled with energy and life. The physicality of their performances added colour, however there were times when their squealing portrayal of excitable children strayed into grating caricature. They work brilliantly as a team together, shuffling through several different roles each and always maintaining the sense of a cohesive unit. As the story progresses this adds immensely to the growing sense of paranoia and disconnectedness as Judy G begins to realise all is not as she initially believed.

 

Special mention must go to Simone Romaniuk for the set and costume design and to Ben Hughes for his lighting design. The sets and costumes bring the story to life in a technicolour assault to your senses. The lighting design is equally dazzling, never more so than during the tornado scene when the effects used to create the vortex were quite impressive.

 

There was so much to enjoy in this new work. Maxine Mellor has created an entertaining script that offers itself up to the cast and begs for big performances. The playful way that Mellor has used the familiar Oz-ian story blended with shades of Judy Garland’s personal demons (including her relationship with daughter, Liza Minnelli), provides a script ripe with allegory and layered meaning. Yet I was left wanting as the house lights went up. The performance maintained an ever growing miasma of foreboding that intensified the further Judy G moved towards her story book ending. However when the final blood, angst and guilt ridden finale arrived, the script’s handling of the plot and meaning began to unravel faster than Judy’s mental state.

 

The Wizard of Oz at times struggled when Style and Substance were forced to battle it out with each other for dominance, but it is a thoroughly entertaining show. The cast give a wonderfully frenzied performance and whilst I’ve noted my criticism with Mellor’s script, on the whole I loved her work. This is an exciting world premiere piece and if you have any room left in your Brisbane Festival schedule you’d do well to make the trip to The Roundhouse to see it.

 

 

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