FringeReview UK 2016

Low Down

Mimi Goddard directs The Wizard of Oz at the Brighton Little Theatre, with MGM’s production replicated. Michael James‘ musical direction synchs recorded music with live singing.


Steven Adams has provided sets and designs (some painted some blown-up projections like backcloths) as well as moveable huts and battlements. He’s also responsible for lighting and sound design (Craig Flint operated it) as well as stage managing with deputy Martyn Coates. Chris Smith synchs film projection and video elements. Tom Williams painted Professor Marvel’s caravan.


Mimi Goddard directs an extraordinary production of The Wizard of Oz at the Brighton Little Theatre, with MGM’s production closely followed. Music’s by Arlen and Harburg and replicating the film with screen projections at various points, including Herbert Stothard’s fine background music. Michael James‘ musical direction deserves commendation not only for synching the recorded music with live singing, but the cast’s vocal projection, clean intonation and ensemble.


Steven Adams has provided with cast and crew the most astounding sets and designs (some painted some blown-up projections like backcloths) as well as moveable huts and battlements that I can remember seeing in Brighton; or anywhere in such a space. He’s also responsible for lighting and sound design (Craig Flint operated it); Steve Evans stage manages with an essential deputy Martyn Coates. Chris Smith has seamlessly synched the film projection and video elements, oak-aged to look authentic with seemingly some footage from the twister in the original film. Tom Williams painted Professor Marvel’s caravan.


It almost beggars belief that on one tiny stage we can be subjected to so many scene stages so expertly handled, so many projected backdrops and painted scenery shifts, not to mention a cast of twenty-two who can all sing. Blocking is key in such space and numbers; it’s handled consummately. There’s even a yellow brick road down the aisle for cast and audience alike.


Costume and makeup are heavily required. This house is famed for them and they deserve mention. Hepzibah Sessa, Myles Locke, Ann Atkins, Glenys Stuart, Eleanor Medhurst – this bespeaks a major operation. Keziah Israel and Patti Griffiths supplied make-up and the latter wigs too.


Mandy-Jane Jackson could be Dorothy in the West End quite plausibly, with her mix of ardent right-mindedness and winsome innocence which throughout her growing self-knowledge gives way to firmness and fire. Vocally she projects both the notes and the accent, nailing ‘Over the Rainbow’ just as her companions manage their individual song or blend together.


Each of her confederates is right: Joseph Bentley’s open goofiness as Hank and the Scarecrow works as if type-cast, as does the chiselled ranginess of Leigh Ward as Hickory/The Tin Man, and the braggadocio-bearded but soft-eyed Sam McLaughlan as Zeke/The Cowardly Lion. Each sing not only to the note but in character.


Frankie Knight’s mostly green but hardly with real envy cackling her way to an ice-melting fate as The Wicked Witch, Miss Gultch’s avatar. You need projection to cut above all other voices and Knight gleefully provides it slicing through boos as if they were stray Munchkins. Sarah Leedham’s turn as the Witch of the North is seraphic and reassuring, requiring a certain restraint counterpoising her evil rival’s furious bustle. Dug Godfrey and Debbie Creissen as Uncle Henry and Aunt Em have most to do with the sepia outer sequences though take other smaller parts. Again one’s struck by plausible Kansas intonation, and the grander educated tones too of Gerry Wicks as Professor Marvel and the Wizard himself, exuding a baffled grandeur and floundering good intent with a sliver of brilliant insight – as well as humbug magician projected beautifully onto the emerald backdrop.


Again one’s struck by the Munchkins’ ensemble with individual notes for mayor and lawyer nicely rendered (Stephen Evans and Nick Barber) or Steven Adams as the officious and overweening guard to Emerald City. but it’d become invidious and lengthy to name everyone: BLT stalwarts and new faces. The flexibility of this ten-strong team from Munchkins to trees to monkeys to guards is underscored by deeply-etched in-character roles. There were literally no weak links in any of the ensembles even the oafish guards in the land the Wicked Witch rules.


Full colour programme quality is another hallmark of BLT, here A4-sized with a colouring-in page! With a cast of twenty-two cast biographies were for once dispensed with, my only regret.


There are some extraordinary moments in this production, as in the living trees scene, a triumph of scenery make-up and the original book’s wit and punning, all freshly-stamped to make me wonder why so much hasn’t struck me before. The quartet’s chemistry is joyous and touching, and they register the different backdrops they’re thrust into as truly recognizing their environment has changed. Dorothy’s return is even more affecting than her farewell to Oz, and the rapidity with which her companions are able to change from heavy make up particularly The Tin Man (who uttered a one-off on British Rail at one exit point near the audience) is quietly miraculous, as perhaps of all costumes is his tin suit. The curtain-call reprise of ‘Over the Rainbow’ perfectly finesses an exit.


That is though the key phrase of this production. It’s good enough for a larger professional stage. If you get a chance, ask for a return.