OZ, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

UNTIL halted by the pandemic, Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre had built up a reputation of arguably being the best Christmas show on offer in the area. This new adaptation of L Frank Baum’s classic OZ stories, by Sarah Henley, Zoe Squire and director Emma Earle, has been greeted with such enthusiasm that before the opening date the run has been extended to Sunday 16th January.

Wonderfully imaginatively staged, the combination of lighting, design and sound, when Dorothy (Adiza Shardow) forces her way in to meet the Great Wizard of OZ, was a one of the highlights of some masterful pieces of exciting staging. Making full use of an array of skilfully designed and produced costumes, masks and puppets, just five actors,  in addition to creating the principal characters, Georgina Strawson (Scarecrow), Joseph Tweedale (Tin Man), Alison Fitzjohn (Lion). Martin Bonger (Wicked Witch of the West and Wizard of OZ), and Adiza Shardow, cleverly bring to life a raft of other characters, animals and demons, to life, often in a manner that convinces you that the stage is populated by many more actors.

There are many dark passages in the story two of the most memorable being, when Dorothy and her brother Toto, no cute dog with that name in this adaptation, are shipwrecked and separated, and the dramatic moment when the Wicked Witch of the West all but robs Dorothy of the magic Red Boots, slippers would have been out of place amongst this array of modern, sometimes outrageous, always fascinating and eye catching costumes.

There were times when these dark passages appeared to be a little too dominant, and you would have wished director Emma Earle had used a lighter touch allowing more comedy to develop. With that in mind you have to question is the suggestion that the show which is aimed at a six-plus aged audience is not set at too low an age.

Certainly, with several political messages subtly slipped into the text and action, there was plenty for the adults to ponder on. The younger members in the audience, whilst enjoying those expertly staged exciting scary moments, sitting in the round you could see some of them gripping on to the edge of their sears, would I am sure have loved more of the humour, so often started, but not fully followed through, to have been given more opportunity to develop.
You can argue about the balance of drama and comedy in this fine new take on a classic tale, but only stand back and shower praise on the production and performances, and welcome back Christmas entertainment at the Tobacco Factory Theatre.


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