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The Wizard of Oz (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Summer by the River

Iris Theatre and For Gods & Monsters Theatre

Star rating: ***

The most striking thing about “London’s Free Open Air Theatre” led by Phil Wilmott and now in its 15th year at Scoop by City Hall is the diverse audience it attracts.

I shared a Sunday afternoon performance in warm sunshine with children, families, tourists from all over the world,  curious passers-by and several babies.

The problem with free theatre is that doesn’t command the respect it should (and usually does from ticket buyers) and there was a lot of coming and going and chatting but perhaps this isn’t the place to discuss that.

Adapted by Wilmott and directed by Justin Murray, this is The Wizard of Oz reduced to one hour. We start with Dorothy (Emma Hoey – excellent voice work and suitably childlike) somewhat troubled in Oz.

Then comes a flashback – using the ensemble cast of eight whizzing about with model houses, puppets and the like – to the famous Kansas cyclone, called a “hurricane” in this version.

Because this company doesn’t have the rights from MGM it doesn’t use the well known film songs and Wilmott has returned to Frank L Baum’s original 1900 book for some of the dialogue and ideas.

The result, sadly, is rather wordy especially when the unmasked wizard (PK Taylor) finally takes centre stage. And why on earth is Eva Fontaine as the Witch of the North dressed like a nineteen thirties nurse in lilac gingham and hammily made to sound like Joyce Grenfell in nursery school mode?

This show could do with more songs. There’s a repeated heading-for-Oz song based on “She’ll be coming round the mountain” and a substitute for “Some Day over the Rainbow”  based on “Red River Valley”  but in general there’s far more talking than singing.

PK Taylor brings the show glitteringly to life as the Wicked Witch of the West which he plays as a cross between a pantomime baddie and dame.

Adrian Decosta delights as the Tin Woodsman for whom he finds a nice creaky gait and a very convincing  mid South accent.

The very best thing in this show, however is Sarah Agha as Toto, She bounds and barks about as a tail-wagging dog who likes her ears tickled, She is also a very human dog with a lot of in-your-face London attitude. It’s a fine performance.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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