This Christmas, there is an outstanding and authentic musical in the North West that will have you believing that you’re not in Chester anymore. Well, you’ll certainly believe that Consuela Rolle isn’t in Kansas anymore when she takes you on a journey through Oz, as Dorothy, in one of the most iconic and renowned musicals of all time.
No pressure then, for the relatively new Storyhouse team in Chester who have created big noise in the last year or so since they opened their doors for the first time, already welcoming one and a half million visitors in that time. You can see why, every aspect of the venue is outstanding. Thoughtful, modern and comfortable. With ample parking right next door. I digress!
The production is an edgy blend of modern style and pure authenticity – a mix that you don’t see much of outside of London (Perhaps the nearest example of such a style would be Curve Leicester). Directed by Alex Clifton, the production uses a variety of devices to tell it’s story, in an immersive way that certainly commands the attention of a willing audience – thoroughly entertaining adults and children alike.
Just like the film, you meet Dorothy and her family at their ranch before she runs away during a storm – she meets some iconic friends along the way before learning some invaluable life lessons from the wizard. All with her best friend Toto for company.
There’s a quality cast here too – with particular highlights coming from an impressive Natalie Woods as the Scarecrow, she is endearing on stage as a truly lovable character. Her counterparts Tin Man (Ben Oliver) and The Lion (Ricard Colvin) also bring the warmth and humour in some really magical moments.
Zara Ramm as the Wicked Witch of the West is strong and classy (…and slightly terrifying!) in her portrayal and two other classy performers Natasha Bain (Aunt Em / Good Witch) and the smooth Kenny Thompson (Uncle Henry / Emerald City Guard) complete Dorothy’s “clan”.
Fergus Rattigan is hilarious as The Wizard of Oz and brings the show neatly to a conclusion – but the show is absolutely made by a Consuela Rolle, a strong Dorothy who brings out the adventure and emotion of her character beautifully and convincingly.
There isn’t a weak link throughout the cast though, with more leads including trainee actors. The community ensemble were used very effectively and “The Munchkins” were incredible to watch, great choreo from Carl Parris, executed very well from these young stars.
A large and good looking set intelligently provides the variety of locations – with Dorothy’s home being particuarly innovative. The show is very well lit as a whole and it is technically of very high quality. Perfect costumes complete the look and feel of a team that are definitely producing at a high level.
The programme notes talk about the theme of childhood friendships and make some pretty interesting links (from Mean Girls to The Graduate!) which certainly makes you consider this traditional show from an interesting angle. This holistic way of standing back to look at the piece before building it back up with it’s traditional building blocks is clearly how Clifton and his team have managed to produce a piece that grabs you more than you would expect. This is the Wizard of Oz as if it was written today.
This is a very high standard of production that will entertain all ages. Storyhouse have got this right and this will be a very strong selling show – so buy your tickets whilst they’re still available.
It’s worth noting that Chester looks beautiful in the winter evening and the Christmas markets immediately outside the theatre makes for a very pleasant trip for a seasonal production.
The Wizard of Oz plays Storyhouse in Chester until Sunday 6th January. To book tickets visit: storyhouse.com
All images are Copyright of Mark Carline.