Review: The Wizard of Oz (Epstein, Liverpool)

Few films can boast the enduring popularity of The Wizard of Oz. Made in 1939 and starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, the young Kansas farm girl whisked away by a tornado to the magical land of Oz, it’s one of those rare classics that captivates adults and children alike. There aren’t many opportunities to see the story told on stage, so this touring production that’s at the Epstein for a short run is the perfect pre-Easter treat.

The plot was of course familiar to just about everyone in the audience, but presenting it as a live theatrical performance breathed exhilarating new life into a tale we never tire of hearing anyway. The colourful and imaginative sets brought both Kansas and the world of Oz wonderfully to life, and the costumes, dancers and live band added to the spectacle. The children in the audience were clearly excited and entranced, and the inclusion of several recent hit numbers in the score had many of them dancing and singing along in their seats.

Dorothy was winningly played by Anna Williamson, known to many for her frequent television appearances on everything from children’s shows to Splash! and This Morning, and there was another stellar performance from Laura Handley as the Wicked Witch, whose green face, black costume and malevolent delivery never failed to elicit the requisite boos and hisses. Also excellent were Jez Edwards (another familiar television face) as the dopey Scarecrow, Conor J Barrie as the nervy Lion and Thomas Hope as the squeaky voiced Tin Man.

The climactic showdown with the Wicked Witch was in truth a bit of a letdown (over almost before you realised it had begun), but the other scenes were fine and the show ended with an entertaining audience participation sequence.

Shone Productions (a Liverpool-based company) have devised this show, which is also visiting other parts of the country over the Easter period. It’s ideal family entertainment and should prove a deserved hit.

The Wizard of Oz continues at the Epstein Theatre, Liverpool on Friday April 11 (2pm and 6pm) and Saturday April 12 (2pm and 6pm). For more information, click HERE.