ComedyPhysical TheatreReviewSouth West

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz -Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

Writer : Le Navet Bete collaboration
Director : Mark Laville
Reviewer : Joan Phillips

Le Navet Bete returns to Bristol’s Tobacco Factory after last year’s successful Dick Tracy. Drawing on its clowning roots, this hugely talented company have produced some great comic shows and the levels of excited anticipation in the audience are high as we’re lead to our seats in rural Kansas.

Sadly, this show is not Le Navet Bete at anywhere near its best. This collaborative production gets off to a jittery and slow start. It is a long time before Dorothy sets off on her trail. This version of a well-known story does not seem to have enough to offer. What is most disappointing is how little Le Navet Bete use their physical and comic skills. There are a few great moments, a very funny nod to Michael Flatley’s Riverdance and an equally amusing melting Wicked Witch of the West. These remind us of what this exciting company is capable of but moments like these are very thinly spread over this two-hour production.

There could have been much more put into the script, characters, musical references, use of props, scenery and the very physical comedy for which this group is known. Instead, it’s light on content, characters are very thin, scene changes are slow and distracting, and some of the weaker comic moments repeated and drawn out unnecessarily. The show co-produced with Barbican Theatre Plymouth could do with some sharp cutting from director Mark Laville.

The four performers, Dan Bianchi, Matt Freeman, Al Dunn and Nick Bunt are as energetic as ever. But the mixed character development and script limitations limit the opportunities for talent to shine. On the plus side, theidea of the Lion (Bianchi) needing courage to overcome stage fright for a well-known stage role is very funny indeed. Nick Bunt’s Dorothy works hard to engage the younger members of the audience throughout. AlDunn’sIron Man, from behind the iron curtain,has some fun robotic movements.

Marketed as a show for the entire family, it would have been fairer to say it is more for younger audiences with accompanying adults. Le Navet Bete is great at audience participation, particularly Al Dunn’s flying monkey, but the appeal is more to primary school children and the very youngest teenagers here.

On the whole, it’s rather confusing and disappointing. This company can produce some of the very best physical comic theatre and there are a few moments when it comes together brilliantly but sadly not enough.

Runs until 17 September 2016 then continues tour| Image: TFT

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