The Wizard of Oz review at Birmingham Repertory Theatre – ‘breezily paced and visually inspired’
Bursting with energy and colour, Liam Steel’s Wizard of Oz in an inventive but faithful take on L Frank Baum’s beloved yarn. Staged as an occasionally dizzying whirlwind of movement, the cast members keep swooshing in on wires or skipping cheerfully down a neverending yellow brick staircase. A few modern touches sit unobtrusively in the mix. Munchkins break out into street dance licks. The Emerald City’s aesthetic is part Warhol’s Factory, part Berlin warehouse rave, doused in rainbow colours under Nick Richings’ bold lighting.
There’s no denying that it all looks gorgeous. Angela Davies’ technicolour design is vivid and imaginative, with Kansas’s rusty curtains of corrugated iron parting to reveal a dreamworld of neon blues and yellows. Lavish costumes by Samuel Wyer feature a mashup of Regency finery and kitsch Americana, all sparkles and threadbare velvets, flouncy ruffs and beehive hairdos. His puppets are equally characterful, with toad-faced munchkins and a painfully adorable Toto rendered in glittery violet yarn and invested with tremendous personality by puppeteer Ben Thompson.
Chisara Agor is a likeable Dorothy, overwhelmed but rallying irrepressibly after every setback. Jos Vantyler makes a memorable Witch, snarling and luxuriating in excessive wickedness, while Kelly Agbowu shines in the musical numbers, belting out a smoky, soulful version of Queen of the Forest. Meanwhile, Lorna Laidlaw gives a scene-stealing turn as good-hearted huckster Professor Marvel, whose scams – whether in Oz or the US – feel less like cheap opportunism, and more like optimism in the face of crisis.