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)

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks