Writer: L. Frank Baum
Director: Gari Jones
The famous phrase from The Wizard of Oz ‘there’s no place like home’ has an extra sting now many of us will not see ours this Christmas, so watching Dorothy’s journey home in Creation Theatre’s new digital production may have an added resonance. Streamed on Zoom and designed for the computer game age, this modern version uses technology to escape the trials of the real world.
Bored in lockdown and desperate to find her path, Dorothy kills the evil Witch of the East in a video game and suddenly finds herself in Oz where she is given some magic shoes and an instruction to follow the Yellow Brick Road at the end of which she can ask the Wizard for help. Along the way she meets a brainless Scarecrow, a heartless Tin Man and a cowardly Lion who become her companions on a dangerous journey.
Directed by Gari Jones, this production makes extensive use of computer graphics and animated film created by Ryan Dawson Laight to enhance the magical and colourful land of Oz. Often quite an intense watch with acid colours and flashing graphics, the creative team are pushing the calling platform to its limits with scenes in which the characters appear side-by-side or layered together with backdrops and graphics to avoid the alienating experience of the over-familiar Zoom boxes that have typified much of 2020’s online theatre.
This makes the scenarios more convincing as the four protagonists walk together down the road or stand in close proximity in the poppy field in front of the Emerald City. Visually, it is an intense and heightened experience with a lot of images and tones layered over one another to create the feeling of being inside a computer game although sometimes it is not always clear where the characters are, especially in some of the more abstract graphic creations.
The story is a simple one and making Dorothy a more modern, savvy and deeply unimpressed Londoner gives her an edge that overcomes the twee inheritance of Victor Fleming’s defining movie as she questions the democratic structures of Oz. However, her connection with her ever-increasing band of followers seems a burden rather than a valuable friendship. The pace slackens early in the second half with overly drawn-out scenes in which the characters individually consult the shape-shifting Wizard and then separately perform a feat of daring, taking the running time to over two hours including interval.
Not an easy show for the actors to perform remotely, without really being able to react to one another. Chloe Lemonius’ Dorothy is cool and sassy, a very contemporary heroine full of attitude and unconvinced by the people and structures of Oz while the upgraded Tin Man (Tom Richardson) is now a deadpan computer who tells terrible jokes about ram. Dharmesh Patel’s Scarecrow retains his sweet empty-headedness, Simon Yadoo’s Lion has a superb mane headdress and Annabelle Terry as the Wicked Witch of the West enjoyably chews the scenery but makes a great cackling villain.
This is quite a noisy production and digital choices, though skilful, often overwhelm the story while the actors occasionally breaking the fourth wall to address cast and crew is an unnecessary complication. But Creation Theatre have certainly made this story its own and brought it to life with a considered technical approach and enough imagination to show just how far Zoom shows have come in recent months.
Runs here until 3 January 2021