Theatre review - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Octagon Theatre Bolton
- Credit: The Other Richard
Paul Mackenzie follows the Yellow Brick Road to Bolton
It’s not quite as L Frank Baum wrote it, but the Octagon’s production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is every bit as magical and entertaining as the audiences who saw the first musical version on Broadway in 1902 must have thought that was. That ran for nine years, though and you only have until the end of this month to see this take on the classic.
But what those New York theatre-goers won’t have had is the rich Lancastrian humour which runs through this version like the yellow road runs through the land of Oz.
It’s a well-worn path – travelled most famously by Judy Garland in the 1939 film version – and there’s another production on this month at the Opera House in Blackpool with all those songs you know so well.
But the Octagon, who are currently playing away at the University of Bolton stadium, home of Bolton Wanderers, while their town centre base is refurbished, have re-imagined Dorothy’s adventures very cleverly.
When the storm comes she is whisked away from her aunt and uncle’s home in Bolton and lands, right on top of a wicked witch in natty trainers, in Oz.
The lead role is perfectly pitched by Anne O’Riordan who has just the right balance of innocence and tenacity as she goes on her journey of self-discovery.
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With the clever use of a minimal set, it’s easy to forget you’re in one of the large function rooms in the Nat Lofthouse stand (the rather optimistically named Premier Suite, given this season’s form so far). The acoustics seemed pretty good from where we were sitting and despite the lack of any rake to the seating, we heard no grumble about the view. Dorothy and the friends she meets along the way spend a chunk of time among the seats anyway, bringing the action to your row, or even your lap.
Those friends – the emotional tin man, the scaredy cat lion and the brainless scarecrow – almost steal the show with some powerful singing, panto style jokes and delightfully silly word play as he helps Just Dorothy Actually return to Bolton, via The Wonderford Wizell of Woz.
They double as the band as well, providing live music on stage throughout the show and if you’re concerned that there’s no Somewhere Over the Rainbow, just try to stop singing The Road is Yellow. It’ll stick in your head even more than the original Follow the Yellow Brick Road ever did. With a bit of practise you might even master the dance moves.
That they didn’t steal the show was due in no small part to Matthew Ganley’s superb performance as the wizard from Wigan, stranded in Oz by a ballooning accident.
This isn’t a panto, although it has some of the jokes. It isn’t the same old show you’ve seen before, although it has the same basic plot. And it isn’t in a traditional theatre, although they are used to crowds (no rude jokes, please). But it is truly wonderford family entertainment and it deserves to go down a storm.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz runs until December 31.