Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • THE WIZARD OF OZ • Royal Festival Hall • 2008

Southbank Centre aerial view (Royal Festival Hall in Centre), July 2007

Southbank Centre aerial view (Royal Festival Hall in Centre), July 2007 [Wikipedia]

Choosing The Wizard of Oz as the Southbank’s musical this summer at first seemed like a great idea. The musical hasn’t been performed in London for more than twenty years and the credentials of both the venue and the director Jude Kelly would seem to suggest that it would be an inspired piece of theatre rather than a tacky, flashy remake. Well, it’s not tacky, but sadly the production does not live up to the expectations, tarnished as it is by a bland, inadequate staging and uninventive direction – which is especially a shame considering the acting talent in it is considerable.

If such a thing is possible, the anticlimax occurs as soon as you sit down in the auditorium: on stage we see a small, dark, empty space, above which hangs a large projecting screen, with a 1930s advertisement billboard on either side of it. And this is pretty much the way everything stays for the rest of the evening. Scene changes are suggested only with the most miserly collection of props: the Emerald City is a tin green door, the Kansas farm is a little bit of fence and Munchkin land consists of, well, the Munchkins coming onto the stage.

Any other kind of theatrical magic is similarly lacking: no flying, no great bursts of colour, and the Wicked Witch makes her “out of nowhere” entrances and exists by – the horror – walking through doors in the set (there is a little bit of smoke and a bang, but the door in the set is still very obvious for all to see).

This dismal situation is supposed to be livened up by animations, continuously projected onto the cinema-sized screen. However, these are not only distracting from the main action, they are also ghastly to look at (they look like they took five minutes in Paintbrush to make) and merely reiterate what’s already happening on the stage, for example, displaying a crown during the Lion’s song about being a king. It gets quite annoying, like someone telling you what’s happening in a plot that’s really not that difficult to get.

Programme notes suggest that the set is so profoundly unmagical because Kelly and the designer Michael Vale tried to make it clear that Dorothy never really left Kansas and that instead Kansas is transformed around her by her imagination. If that’s the case, one would think that this particular Dorothy is not a very imaginative person, considering the Southbank Kansas and Oz are differentiated only by the amount of dry ice and those sorry projections.

The more likely explanation for the pared-down staging would be that the budget was not quite what the creative team had hoped for. But then the team should have asked themselves whether it makes sense to try and stage a budget version of a musical that is so strongly ingrained in everyone’s mind as a spectacular movie. Perhaps they could have moved away from the movie and designed something completely original, maybe returning to the 1902 musical. Instead, they have made the worst choice of all by exactly replicating the 1939 film in costumes and script, which only makes the discrepancy between its unfortunate set and the splendour of the movie more obvious.

All of this is especially a shame because the performances themselves are actually often outstanding. Siân Brooke is a very different Dorothy to Judy Garland, quite goofy and a bit like out of a panto, but weirdly lovable all the same. Adam Cooper, who headlined Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, is an impressively nimble Tin Man and Julie Legrand a suitably wicked Wicked Witch of the West. Despite the general ability of the cast, Gary Wilmot as the Cowardly Lion would easily steal the show – with his amazing singing voice and just the right degree of camp – were it not for a cute Maltese playing Toto, who only needs to show his muzzle to have the audience oohing and ahhing all over. It’s a shame these talented performers are continuously betrayed by the direction, which for example confines the Witch next to one of the advertising billboards for most of her stage-time and makes Dorothy walk in a circle when she’s meant to be getting sucked up into the tornado.

The Wizard of Oz is such a gem of a musical that it’s almost impossible to make a complete flop out of it. The score, the fantasy and the characters are just too good – and here they are done justice by the cast as well as the orchestra. It’s not a bad night out and for a fifteen quid at a local rep it would be an enjoyable evening. But considering the top tickets are £50 and this is the Royal Festival Hall, you’d just want a bit more bang for your buck.

Vid Simoniti © 2008

Originally published on R&V 01-08-08


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Dreaming Reality

If Existence is a dream, let us dream perfection....


Exploring best practice and research in sexual violence. A loud voice in the fight against victim blaming. Written and Managed by Jessica Eaton, Doctoral Researcher in Forensic Psychology

Teagan's Books

Now available: "Murder at the Bijou - Three Ingredients I"

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

The History Woman's Blog

Just another weblog

Art by Jess Miller

sculpture and artwork


by Jack Monroe, bestselling author of 'A Girl Called Jack'

surprise saffron

relishing in life's surprises, delighting in food, travel, art

Wish I Were Here

Journeys Through Place and Time

Doron Art

A journey into my world of Painting

Taylor Revert

An anything-and-everything blog from life's number one fan

Random Facts in History

History is complex, massive, and full of strange events and coincidences. Learn with me as I hunt those out and bring them into the light.

Life with an Illness

*Tips and tricks on how to get through life when you have a chronic illness*

The poor side of life

Exposing the unfair treatment of jobseekers, the horrors of Universal Credit, unfair sanctions and heinous treatment of claimants at Ashton under Lyne Jobcentre.

Wild Woman Wisdom

We are wild, we are feminine we are rooted: I help women find their power and speak their truth.

Politics and Insights

Public interest issues, policy, equality, human rights, social science


Supporting the rich amateur theatre scene on the Isle of Wight

Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography - Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.

Sarah Ditum

Writing, etc.

The Müscleheaded Blog

"Nothing Exceeds Like Superfluous Jejunity "

Jots from a Small Apt.

Largely @ Liberty

Rethinking Life

Art and the philosophy of life

Croatia, the War, and the Future

Ina Vukic - Croatia: people, politics, history, economy, transition from communism to democracy

lynz real cooking

lynz real life

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Tropical Affair

Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...

The home of writer Barney Hoskyns' books, poems, photos and more.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Left Handed Lottie

Drawing and painting on an ipad

Atelier 88

More than just rooms

The Sleeping Hare

Art by Lottie Nevin

Pacific Paratrooper

This site is Pacific War era information


The musings of a Londoner, now living in Norfolk

Vegan Books For Children

books from Little Chicken, Honestly Books and Violet's Vegan Comics


News, politics, insights, inside information from the left

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Silver Screenings

an irreverent blog of old movies

My Life as an Artist (2)

Smile! You’re at the best site ever

Violet's Vegan Comics

Virtual Vegan Comics for Children

Two Rooms Plus Utilities

Written from the heart, this is the unadulterated truth of live with multiple chronic illnesses and being housebound. My life open for you to follow. Please join me


How current policy is little more than kicking the cat....

Matt's History Blog

Hopefully interesting snippets and thoughts

David Hencke

Westminster and Whitehall news investigations

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

%d bloggers like this: