REVIEW: THE WIZARD OF OZ (Sheffield Crucible) ★★★★

Renowned for their spectacular seasonal musicals, Sheffield Crucible Theatre’s 2017 Christmas show is far from a break in tradition. The Wizard Of Oz is a story that reverberates across generations and is a family favourite loved by everyone and immortalised on film by the wonderful Judy Garland. Whilst keeping the cornerstones of the story, Robert Hastie’s production creates an adaptation that is unique, exquisite and an absolute triumph for Sheffield theatres, though I would argue could be even better.

Portraying Dorothy and her three friends- The Scarecrow, The Tinman and The
Lion are Gabrielle Brooks, Andrew Langtree, Max Parker and Jonathan Broadbent. The dynamic between these actors is fantastic and their performances work incredibly well together. They are supported superbly by Sophia Nomvete as Aunt Em/Glinda, Michael Matus as Uncle Henry, Ryan Ellsworth as the Wizard and a talented ensemble. As for the Wicked Witch of the West, Catrin Aaron plays the role well, though I would have loved more presence from the character during her scenes. Believable accents all round as well thanks to Michaela Kennen’s dialect coaching. Without wishing to spoil too much, Rhiannon Wallace’s puppetry was simply stunning, bringing to life the characters so well.

Janet Bird’s set is honestly one of the best I have seen, it fills the space beautifully and brings a sense of simultaneous playfulness and grandeur to the production. My main wonder when I first got tickets was about how they would achieve iconic parts of The Wizard of Oz, like the cyclone and the yellow brick road in a space like the Crucible, however, I was not disappointed. The cyclone was a modest yet effective use of the resources and the cast, whilst the stunning transition from Kansas to Munchkin land left the audience, including myself, picking our bottom jaws up from the floor beneath our seats and the gasps of joy and awe were audible throughout the room. Well done! The effects used for the friends’ journey along the yellow brick road were intelligent and well designed though I could have had a better use of lighting here.

The costume design for this show was hit and miss. Whilst I enjoyed an update on Dorothy’s blue gingham dress and the ruby brogues kept well with the show’s aesthetic, other costumes left me a little disappointed. The interpretation of the three friends was well put together, particularly the knitted lion, however costume is where I feel the witch could have had a little more help. The idea of dressing the witch differently from the standard black robe and making the character wicked by demeanour rather than appearance didn’t seem right and the interpretation lacked so much life. Keeping the costumes the same for both Miss Gulch and the witch was a strong idea, I just wish the witch’s look was enhanced by more than just a change of fabric colour. Throw in an off the shelf wig and you have a witch that would struggle to scare even the most cowardly of lions, all topped off by some slightly lacklustre effects for her “magical” entrances. Similarly, the costumes of the Munchkinlanders were a trifle distracting and added a sense of clunkiness to the otherwise good choreography.

I wholeheartedly appreciate Hastie’s direction to make a true family friendly spectacle without reducing the production to a pantomime. Hilarious updates to the script added reference to pop culture, bringing even more humour to the piece. The witch’s melting could have been done a little smoother and those sitting stage right missed it completely due to the placement of the guards in the scene. During the poppies scene, Glinda was pretty much completely blocked from view because of the set for all but those sitting face on to the stage and could have been avoided by the extension of her platform. Despite this, this production really is a fabulous way to introduce children to the theatre.

In spite of my few qualms, I really did enjoy the show. A superb production from a fantastic production house. I would urge all that can to get tickets. The Wizard of Oz runs until the 20th January.

Reviewed by James Rew
Photo: Johan Persson