Well, the panto season is upon us again. No, there’s no point yelling, “Oh, no it isn’t! Christmas is behind you!” because The Wizard of Oz is an Easter panto, and it’s whisking Dorothy, Toto, upturned house, ruby slippers and all here, there and everywhere between now and May.
It’s a typical panto with all the usual ingredients, and the most perfect thing about it is that, in spite of its imperfections, it has everyone bubbling with laughter and brimming with fun. In true panto style, the bare bones of the story of Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz slowly unfold amidst a blitz of jokes, puns, patter, song, dance and interactive silliness. The kids are in raptures of delight as water guns blast, sweets are batted out, and giant beach balls wallop back and forth around the auditorium. Boos, cheers, loud shouting, and a sing-a-long proclaiming, “I can play the pi-a-no!” make for more frantic fun. The mayhem of transforming The Twelve Days of Christmas into twelve completely barmy and unlikely bribes (involving sumo wrestlers and a string of knickers!) engenders mirth far more massive than you might imagine, as does an impossible marshmallow-cramming routine, while Trump and Boris jokes, it appears, still go down a treat.
Ensuring a jolly good time really is had by one and all come the energetic efforts of the cast, supported all the way by a worthy two-man band on percussion and keyboard. Kerry Katona as the Wicked Witch of the East has transformed wonderfully from beautiful Atomic Kitten to spitting, sneering, malevolent wildcat, totally relishing every moment of her green-faced, pointy-hatted, witchy wickedness and welcoming every boo and hiss that comes her way. With his sparkling stage presence, strong acting and singing and great audience rapport Ryan Greaves lends lively, sunny charisma to his roles as yeehah cowboy Wally and brainless, colourful Scarecrow, while likewise endearing and with fine singing are Blue Peter’s Barney Harwood as the gentle Tinman and Kate Salmon as good witch Glinda who guides us through the tale and helps us Reach for the Stars. Another good singer, Jamie Riding doubles up as Dame Auntie Em and the rotund, shaggy-haired cowardly Lion, while the straight, serious role of earnest, sweet-singing
Dorothy Gale belongs to ex-X-Factorist and CBBC personality Lauren Platt. (Hmmm? Gale? Platt?)
As ever, jokes often stem from the previous careers of the entertainers, and especially so in the case of Brian Capron. Once Richard Hillman, erstwhile Corrie killer (Ah! Gale Platt and the car in the canal!) he’s now Professor Marvel and also the emerald-clad Wizard of Oz. Primarily, though, he’s Brian Capron, a cynical, grossly underestimated, well-spoken thespian act-or, reduced to playing panto but still desperate to show us glimpses of his Hamlet and Richard III at every opportunity. It works nicely.
There’s a lot less onstage glitz, glitter and glamour than at Christmas (with a walk-on yellow brick road, courtesy of a bespectacled lad in a bit of yellow plastic) while some (nay, many) of the puns aren’t strong enough to engender even a groan, and some of the thick-and-fast patter of the comedy routines would benefit greatly from better comic timing and a more balanced and thoughtful delivery of punchlines. The songs from the film don’t feature, either, though plenty of others do. Yet in spite of any deficiencies, so much is good and so involving that everyone emerges thoroughly happy and elated.
Eileen Caiger Gray
The show tours to Clacton, Hayes, Gravesend, Tewkesbury, Whitchurch, Oldham, Rhyll, Whitley Bay, Cannock, Redditch, Burnley, Northampton.