REVIEW: Wizard of Oz, Cidermill Theatre, Chipping Campden School
By Steve Sutherland, 9th December
Photos: Koti Nayler
HAVE you ever heard of Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles? Nope, me neither. But according to the just published, highly prestigious, eighth only-once-a-decade Sight And Sound poll of the greatest movies of all time, it’s number one. According to Wikipedia it was made in 1975 and: “examines a widowed mother’s regimented schedule of cooking, cleaning, mothering, and running errands over three days.” Nope, never gonna watch it.
What are these people on? I mean, any fool could tell you that the greatest film of all time, indisputably and without a shadow of a doubt, is The Wizard of Oz. Come on, it’s got the lot: a cast of loveable larger-than-life characters, a wicked witch, a heroine we can root for, it turns from black-and-white to colour, it boasts tons of catchy and memorable songs, an endangered puppy, a murder of sarcastic crows, a nether world that may be heaven, may be hell, may be both, lots of little fellers and, yup, a flock of flying monkeys!!! Who could reasonably want for anything more?
Which is why teacher-directors Tracey James and Jane Johnson made a smart move in choosing Oz as the destination for Chipping Campden School’s debut theatrical performance in their swanky new Cidermill Theatre. There are plenty of parts for aspiring thespians so the trio of shows quickly sold-out, the theatre packed with proud mums and dads, grans and granddads, brothers and sisters, most cheerfully familiar with the plot and happy to hum along to the tunes so the feelgood factor was, indeed, over the rainbow.
CCS’s go at Oz was charm itself. Freya Smith played Dorothy pitch perfectly – just the right mix of innocent trepidation and instinctive bravery – while her cute canine Toto was a marvel of puppetry courtesy of Mayoko Bosley who not only created the mutt but handled him beautifully. You couldn’t have asked much more of Noah Johnson’s flippy-floppy Scarecrow and Seb Makaritis’ timorous Tinman either – both were admirably true to the sentimental magic of the movie originals. Bringing some adventurous choices to her role as the Cowardly Lion was Mery Sutherland – what a sassy interpretation it was. There was a touch of burlesque about her soppy big cat, a little more Liza Minnelli than Judy Garland, and the way she shaped If I Were King Of The Forest into a sashaying cabaret turn was richly deserving of its spontaneous ovation. A dandy lion indeed. And Luke Wilson’s Wizard was no slouch, nicely played as a big-hearted bumbler, while Libby Cooke’s Wicked Witch was hysterically OTT, a screeching, green-faced nails-down-the-blackboard evil delight.
The music was provided by the school orchestra who were game as ever.
The show’s only real hitch being the decision to uncouple the casting of the Kansas crew from their alter-egos in Oz which is thematically essential to the movie’s deeper meanings. With so many willing participants, it’s understandable that Aunty Em, Uncle Henry and the farmhands should be played by different actors to their Oz counterparts but it robbed the production of a rich dimension. That’s not to say the folks back home weren’t fine – Ed Wilkinson’s hee-hawing Zeke earned a lot of laughs, as did the lads when they doubled for the funky fruit trees.
Just in case you were wondering, any sane person would nominate David Lynch’s mind-bending Mulholland Drive as the second-best movie ever made. Here’s what the great man himself has to say about that: “Not a day goes by where I don’t think about The Wizard of Oz.”