Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, is a breathtaking production full of thrilling high points
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, until September 2 – tickets here.
A packed audience gathered at the historic Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds, yesterday for the opening night of its latest in-house production.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – with performances running until September 2 – made its debut with a 15-strong cast of professional and community performers.
They have spent the summer rehearsing a bespoke script, by playwright Mike Akers, commissioned by the theatre.
So anticipation was high as Owen Calvert-Lyons, Theatre Royal artistic director and production co-director, greeted theatre supporters and audience members at an opening night reception.
He said: “It is so important that we are able to tell stories about where we live and not just picking up a script off a shelf.
“So thank you to our commissioning circle, who made this possible.”
He added: “A community production is something quite different. It is something where seasoned professionals stand side by side with our community performers. Some have just stepped off the West End and some have just finished Year 6.
“It is about time we went to see the wizard.”
David Whitney, co-director, said: “Our vision for this adaptation was to create a production that truly reflects the spirit of inclusivity and togetherness.
“We firmly believe the magic of Oz is amplified when people from all walks of life come together to create something extraordinary.”
The performance started with Toto (Ronan Quiniou) bounding on to stage to set the scene for the beginning – or was it? – of the story.
And so we gradually met Dorothy (Darcy Manning), Aunt Em (Nicola Bryan), Uncle Henry (Michael Lambourne) and Dorothy’s mum (Andi Dodds) in a disjointed timeline my six-year-old daughter Clara found slightly confusing, but nonetheless entertaining.
The production really gathered pace once Dorothy had been plucked in her shed near Stowmarket and deposited in Oz, encountered the munchkins and North Witch and set off with Toto on her journey to the Emerald City and the Wizard.
This is the moment the revolving stage revealed its rotating glory, alongside breathtakingly clever choreography depicting Dorothy’s journey in an innovative and visually effective way.
By the time Dorothy and her new friends Tinman (Daniel Walford), Jasmine Briggs (Scarecrow) and Eloise Probitts (Lion) arrived in the Emerald City they may have been out of breath, but I was also exhilarated by what I had witnessed.
It is the first time I have seen a revolve at the Theatre Royal and it was a stunning means of staging the journey within the constraints of the theatre’s small stage.
But back to the story . . and what a magical tale was unfolding.
Without giving anything away, audiences are in for effective stage effects and wonderful song and dance routines as they witness Dorothy on her quest to return home to Stowmarket, meanwhile the utterly delightful Scarecrow’s vocabulary explodes, the Lion discovers her courage and Tinman finally hears his beating heart.
Throughout the engaging performance every song or dance ended to loud applause and cheers – which were deservedly repeated at the production’s uplifting finale.
Professionals and community cast alike performed with aplomb, delivering an outstanding opening night.
When, the next morning, I asked Clara her favourite part of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, she said: “When they walked to the Emerald City and met the Scarecrow, Lion and funny man made of tin.”
I have to agree with her. It was the pinnacle of a production full of high points.
With a punchy script, innovative set, slick staging, engaging performances and a heartwarming tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a summer treat for all ages.
There really is no place like home – especially when Dorothy just wants to get back to Stowmarket. Highly recommended.