Theatre: Stand by your scarecrow

THE WIZARD OF OZ WATERMILL THEATRE NEWBURY

FIRST PUBLISHED in 1900, L Frank Baum's wonderland tale fixed the image of a yellow-brick road, snaking its way through unspoilt expanses towards the wish-fulfilling towers of the Emerald city. It could be seen as one of the greatest advertisements for highway construction of all time, or a pedestrian zone like no other. However, John Doyle's joyful stage version of the movie appears reluctant to rub salt into local wounds opened by the notorious building of the local bypass. His yellow-brick road is closer to a strip of imitation yellow-brick matting.

Meg Surrey's understated design (a wall-to-wall skyscape, untroubled by the merest hint of tornado-spun Kansas farmstead) can be partly attributed to the Watermill's acting area, which isn't big enough to swing a munchkin in. Doyle's aesthetic carefully sidesteps the movie's more troublesome visual elements. This Dorothy's Oz is remarkably similar to the rural back-of-beyond she has just left. The Wicked Witch of the West is no broomstick- thin harridan but a buxom cowgirl, clad in black from stetson to knee- high boot, with a pair of revolvers slung suggestively around the navel. The Sorceress of the South (very Tammy Wynette) in a white-jean number and a Statue-of-Liberty-style headpiece comes armed with a hicksville drawl and a wholesome smile. The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion resemble overalled farmhands in half fancy-dress, while the citizens of munchkin- land are, as any child could see, a group of kids in multi-coloured knickerbockers and wigs.

What gives this "Wiz" whiz is the way that the cast all play instruments as they are spun back and forth by a mini-revolve. Every cloud has a silver handle, enabling swift access to cupboards crammed with instruments: as well as a horn and wind section, there's an accordion for the Tin Man (clunkingly good Simon Walter), a banjo for the scarecrow (Jeremy Harrison on floppy form) and a recorder for Katherine Oliver's Dorothy (more tom- boy than Judy Garland). They lend a warm, Country-and-Western tone to Harold Arlen's and Yip Harburg's timeless songs, turning the forest capers into a vigorous hoe-down and ending with a beautiful a capella re-run of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".

It's a gentle show, for the (very) young at heart: the schoolchildren at the matinee I saw were too busy pretending to choke on the dry ice to be much bothered by the light-bulb contraption intended to signify "the great Oz". The wicked witch's come-uppance, and Dorothy's return home, happen faster than you can say "my pretty". But if the journey is more memorable than the arrival, that has always been the point. It isn't as awesome as the film, but this Wizard of Oz still has plenty of brains, heart and courage. It deserves to blow its own trumpet.

Dominic Cavendish

To 16 Jan (01635 46044)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week