It’s always a bold choice taking a well-known tale and finding a new way to tell it. Festive theatrical programming is full of that with familiar stories on rotation with familiar faces telling familiar gags. This year, Pins and Needles Productions, in league with Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre makes a reliably bold move by taking something familiar and confounding expectations every step of the way.
Director Emma Earle’s audience are going to realise they’re not in Kansas anymore from the beginning with Dorothy and brother Toto (multiple dog references are made throughout and always enjoyed) caught in a tempest in boat ‘Over The Rainbow’. Once separated and washed ashore, sister Dorothy is on the hunt for brother Toto. So far, so Shakespearean.
Our intrepid Dorothy (Adiza Shardow) crosses paths with an array of familiar faces but again, L. Frank Baum’s characters are unlike any version you will have seen.
Georgina Strawson’s Scarecrow is an existential delight. Each new discovery leads to multiple new philosophical questions and the Scarecrow’s journey through a world of discovery is utterly delightful in its child like naivety.
Joseph Tweedale’s Tinman is salt of the earth and a little rusty around the edges. Desperately unthreatening with an axe but you would always want them on your team.
Martin Bonger’s Wicked Witch of the West is an outrageous, steam punk Cruella De Vil-esque joy. Bonger slinks around the stage with his audience captivated, too engaged in his performance to boo. His track suited gamer Wizard also exceeds expectations. Whilst his accent may leave any Antipodeans in the audience feeling short changed, his arrival and departure never disappoints.
Alison Fitzjohn gets the lion’s share of laughs as both the Great Witch of the North and Queenie the lion. Her command of the material, relationship with the audience and sheer delight in bringing this fabulous adaptation to life is infectious.
It is Adiza Shardow, however, that truly shines. Her Dorothy is a kick boxing, public speaking, glass ceiling shattering rockstar in red Docs. She is a role model for young and old. Giving the younger audience members someone to look up to and those older members a hefty kick in the stern to remind them of what and who is important in life.
Zoe Squire’s design is an exuberant, psychedelic palette. From the munchkins and the various horrors the Wicked Witch of the West throws at Dorothy and the gang through to the 80’s arcade Tron like world of the Emerald City, this is a trip down the Yellow Brick road like no other.
Director Emma Earle and designer Zoe Squire are joined by Sarah Henley for script writing duties. All three respectfully nod to Baum’s world and faultlessly and fearlessly take up the baton and make it their own. With Jack Drewry’s thumping soundtrack and Jon Everett and Chris Swain’s sound and lighting design, this Oz is the complete package.
Pins and Needles Productions Oz is the right show, in the right place at the right time. Something for all the family. To quote the Great Witch of the North, it is truly “fablus”.
Oz at Tobacco Factory Theatres Bristol until 16 January 2022.
Photo credit: Mark Dawson
Review originally published on Broadway World.