FamilyNorth WestPantomimeReview

Wizard of Oz – Theatre Royal, St Helens

Reviewer: Gill Lewis

Director: Chantelle Nolan

Our favourite little lost girl tap dances her way over the rainbow into St Helens in this glittery musical extravaganza. From can-canning in Kansas to a trip along the famous yellow cobbles, we join Dorothy and her pals who sing their way through all the familiar tunes on this journey to self-fulfilment and realisation.

The Wizard of Oz, an iconic musical dream-like fantasy, harbours a feast of memorable characters, unforgettable moments, and music. Its meaning and aesthetic extend beyond its narrative, its cultural significance firmly establishing its position within the cinematic canon.

Regal Entertainments Ltd produce a magical evening for a theatre packed full of families looking for some half-term entertainment. The delight and excitement is fully audible and evident, with a responsive audience who lap up the interactive tropes we expect to see in the Theatre Royal’s first of 4 pantos for 2024.

Maddie Hope Coelho’s gingham-garbed Dorothy strikes the right balance of sweetness/innocence and her rendition of “Over the Rainbow” nicely captures the intended spirit of hope, desire, and optimism. The creative decision to use a real-life Toto, although handled well by Coelho, was a slight, albeit cute, distraction during some scenes when not central to the action.

The writing (the credit for adaptation strangely omitted from the programme) stays true to the original story which is injected with topical jokes, cheeky quips, and local references. The very random, but enjoyable circus segment featuring neon-painted dancing figures is perfect for the sugar-rushed younger audience members who relish the opportunity for a dance and sing along.

Despite some gags falling flat, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, mostly delivered by Michael Alan-Bailey as the Scarecrow. Alan–Bailey gives a stand-out performance with natural funny bones and a range of impressions which cover the whole of the alphabet, and his medley of lip-synching hits in a spat with the Wicked Witch (portrayed with glorious evilness by Abigail Middleton) is hilarious.

Several missed creative opportunities came in the form of using audiovisuals for the tornado scene, which could have provided the opportunity for some physical comedy on stage. The absence of a larger-than-life panto Dame (perhaps in the form of Dorothy’s Aunt Em) was a presence sorely missed and would have provided someone for Alan-Bailey to bounce off.

The contrasting characterisations between Dorothy’s companions, the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion (nicely portrayed by Benjamin Keith), and the Tinman, has plenty of potential for some buffoonery and comedy. Tinman was more Tinboy, played by Lewis Canning, making his professional panto debut, despite being accompanied by some humorous sound effects, Canning needed some more oiling and confidence to really pop out in pantoland.

The introduction of the ruby slippers, and the 3 taps of the heels, (this moment partially blocked by the footlights was missed by some audience members), are both central moments which deserve to be further elevated and enhanced. Hayley Russell as Glinda is a spectacular vision, her southern American accent is cute and wholesome, however, it would connect the audience further to this “Cinderella wannabe” with the use of a regional accent.

The attention to detail in the set design, costumes, sound and lighting work together perfectly to create some striking tableaus, enhancing the wonders of theatre, especially to its younger audience. Beautiful washes of colour help to tell the story of Dorothy’s journey. The monochrome pallet of the Kansas farm compared to the other side of the rainbow, where we find a contrast of vibrant kaleidoscopic patterns of colour that create Munchkinland and the Emerald City is delightful.

Most scenes are nicely topped off by the expressive troupe of dancers, choreographed by Nazene Langfield, with assistance from Ruby Faulkner, the bouncy and joyful choreography adds plenty of flair and some fantastic facial expressions.

Overall, The Wizard of Oz shows there’s no place like the Theatre Royal for an entertaining, fun-packed slice of panto, perfect for half term. Upon leaving the theatre, a boy was overheard saying, “This is the best night of my life”. Now that’s what panto is all about. Grab your ticket while you can!

Runs until 18th February 2024.

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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