The Birmingham Rep are taking the classic story of the Wizard of Oz and putting their own spin on it this Christmas. This production is fun, fresh and puts a completely contemporary spin on the well-loved tale. It’s the story and songs we all know and love, but it feels as if it was written yesterday.
Dorothy is played by Chisara Agor who has determination, ambition and a fiery personality alongside her childish naivety. Ending up in Oz and having to face a tough journey encountering a multitude of challenges along the way, she learns so much about herself as it puts her life into perspective. Realising the importance of home and family, it’s a heart-warming tale of triumph against adversity.
Arriving in Oz confused and scared, she is greeted by the dazzling Good Fairy Glinda who reassures her and sends her on her way along the yellow brick road. Shanay Holmes brings spellbinding vocals and enchanting warmth to the role. Her voice is flawless as she belts and riffs an extraordinary rendition of Come Out Come Out, making it a real highlight in the production.
However, it isn’t just Glinda we meet in Oz, the introduction of the munchkins is entirely captivating. All played by intricately designed puppets, the munchkins have tremendous expression. It’s a remarkably clever creation as the munchkins introduce themselves through charming song, character and even break dance.
Dorothy and her dog Toto embark on an adventure alongside her companions Scarecrow (Ed Wade), Tin Man (Dillon Scott-Lewis) and Lion (Kelly Agbowu). They really encapsulate the different characters with genuine sincerity. Whether that’s the loveable Scarecrow’s hilarious movement, Tin Man’s charisma or the cowardly Lion’s soulful voice, they bring huge personality to their roles.
George Dyer’s musical arrangement strikes the perfect balance between the songs we know and something that feels very new. We leave humming the family favourites but are astounded by the new takes on songs like The Merry Old Land of Oz that feels as if it just stepped out of RuPauls Drag Race – enhanced by Liam Steel’s direction.
One obstacle they face is the Wicked Witch of the West who is menacingly played by Jos Vantyler. The gender-swapped role works impeccably as Vantyler’s chilling character is thoroughly terrifying. The Birmingham Rep deserve a round of applause for their diverse casting when it comes to both gender and race. They’ve created a modern production that reflects the society we live in today and despite it being such an old story, it feels completely relevant.
Angela Davies’ set design also propels this traditional story into the 21stcentury. It’s spectacularly clever, and the use of bright coloured light is visually striking. This innovative design continues to amaze the audience through vibrant colour and slick transitions.
The Birmingham Rep have been truly courageous with their clever production of The Wizard of Oz that is bursting with heart, proving that there’s no place like Birmingham for quality theatre this Christmas.
The Wizard of Oz is on at the Birmingham Rep until the 13th of January.
Photo Credit – Graeme Braidwood