"Follow the Yellow Brick Road"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 11/12/18

The Brewhouse Theatre’s Christmas show is a triumph; bold, inventive and visually arresting. It is a very long time since I saw the film of ‘The Wizard of Oz’; long enough to be able to see it though fresh eyes, as did Director and Choreographer Vanessa Lefrancois and her talented team when approaching the original book by Frank Baum. The result is an engrossing story, set in a 1960s rural community, much as parts of Somerset must have been fifty or so years ago. Work on the farm is hard and the timetable of the seasons unrelenting. This is conveyed powerfully by the farm hands Tom Babbage, Kieron Murch and Alex Morgan, who also play, in the dream journey to Oz, respectively, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion. The links between their real and dream characters are subtly made. There is a refreshing absence of sentimentality as the characters grow in confidence.

All the actors perform with intelligence; sure-footed and rooted in reality. As Dorothy, Hannah Morrison captures the restlessness and hot-headedness of a teenager with a hunger for exploration, challenge and adventure, without which her life will be less than whole, only partly lived. Her caring but busy and preoccupied Aunt Em and Uncle Henry (Jennifer Harraghy and Christopher Laishley), are initially no match for Dorothy’s Nemesis Miss Josephine Creech, played with relish by Sarah Waddell. Naturally Miss Creech manifests in Oz as The Wicked Witch of the West, and there Dorothy, aided by Aunt Em’s alter ego, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, learns the valuable lessons that make this such a potent coming-of-age story. Dorothy is able to rise to the challenges laid down by Jeremy Randall’s philosophic Professor Marvel and wily Wizard.

The Munchkins, Jitterbugs and Winkies are terrific, with excellent concentration and stage discipline. The whole cast sing and dance with infectious energy and I am delighted to say I heard every single word. The Jitterbug sequence is just stunning. I loved it. The onstage musicians, directed by Lisa Tustian, complement the action beautifully.

Cleo Pettit’s set and Helen Coyston’s costumes are lively, colourful and witty, demonstrating an in-depth approach to the complex demands of the story, which does, after all, involve a catastrophic storm, a flying house and an air balloon, not to mention air-borne apes and an irrepressible dog. The use of puppetry is inspired; puppet makers Elizabeth Johnson and Niklaas Charles, and puppeteer Lana Biba, work wonders. The programme notes about their work are most interesting, as are the revelations about the hazards experienced by the original film cast. Asbestos snowflakes! Use of barbiturates! Allergic reactions to make-up! A Lion costume that weighed ninety pounds and stank. Suddenly all the Health and Safety regulations make sense.

This really is a most enjoyable, fully rounded show. Catch it if you can!

PS On a completely different note, as someone who is experiencing difficulties with balance, I really appreciate the hand rails at the side of the aisle seats.

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