The Wizard of Oz

Date 2nd November 2017
Society Tavistock Musical Theatre Company
Venue The Wharf Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Julian J. Bennett
Musical Director Rosemary Fox
Choreographer Patti Stott

Report

Author: Gareth Davies

It is always a pleasure to visit the Wharf Theatre for productions by Tavistock Musical Theatre Company, especially as I have fond memories of directing them myself in the past. This 1987 RSC adaptation of the perennial classic ‘The Wizard of Oz’ has become a favourite up and down the country – I saw it at Sterts Theatre last year too - and it is easy to see why. The magical plot and haunting score with its scope for colourful costumes and creative choreography make this a delight for the eyes and ears, as well as providing so many opportunities for younger actors.

TMTC grasped the opportunities this production offers with both hands and this was a production that pleased on many levels. Director, Julian J Bennett, Choreographer Patti Stott and Musical Director, Rosemary Fox, are to be congratulated on a fun and energetic show.

The simple but effective set, the small band and the large, but not over-large, cast of many ages from very young to the more senior delighted with their enthusiasm from the first Kansas scene to the final poignant moment.

A strong principal cast headed by a most engaging Dorothy played by the excellent Charlotte Penrith/Issey Persse (alternating) guided us skillfully through the oh so familiar songs, but also thrilled and frightened us when the need arose.

I enjoyed Rob Tolley’s portrayal of Scarecrow/Hunk, which combined convincing physical acting with a very likeable personality that extended beyond the ‘footlights.’ Mal Rowe as Tinman/Hickory played the most challenging role of the supporting trio with confident skill, whilst the ever-excellent Peter Clement overcame his lion’s costume and heavy make up to convey the humour, cowardice and pathos of Lion/Zeke most effectively. This was a strong trio with a great rapport at the heart of the production.

Karen Batson as Glinda oozed class and style, very much in the manner of the 1939 film. For me her rendition of ‘Poppies’ with supporting singers was the musical highlight of the score. Tresca Pascoe was a terrifying Wicked Witch and a very unpleasant Miss Gultch. Her melting scene was cleverly staged. I always enjoy Tresca’s performances; she is so committed and has a flair for comedy character acting.

Standing out for me in key cameo roles were Yvonne Pellowe as Aunt Em, bringing her warmth and lovely character acting to this role and Tim Farmer as Uncle Henry and the Guard – his performance in this role in the second act was a tour de force of comic character acting. It is so good to see Tim on stage again.

Of course, it would be remiss not to mention the Wizard himself! In this role, and particularly as Professor Marvel, Chris Pascoe gave an assured and warmly characterized performance. He has a fantastic stage voice and I would like to see more of him in future productions – a natural actor if ever I saw one.

The ensemble of Munchkins, Poppies, Snowflakes, Jitterbugs, Monkeys, Crows, Trees and Winkies worked hard throughout the production, and they clearly had a lot of fun in their various guises. This is an excellent show for a large cast. 

Patti Stott’s choreography added to the fun and energy of the piece and I admire how she manages to create movement that works effectively in such a limited space. Sometimes the spacing did not work for me, for example in the ‘Jitterbug’ when the younger, shorter dancers were placed upstage, masking many of them, but that was a minor quibble.

The small band (two keyboards and percussion) were very effective – I have to praise MD Rosemary Fox, Janet Liddicoat and Rex King for providing such excellent, full and varied ‘orchestral’ accompaniment, as when I first saw there was such a small band I was disappointed and concerned that the music might be limited and lack colour. This was, to my enjoyment, not the case.

Overall, this was a visually pleasing, well played and effectively staged musical. Director Julian J. Bennett was clearly fortunate and wise to call on an experienced cast for key roles, whilst offering so many opportunities for newcomers and young performers too. I will look forward to returning to Tavistock for the next TMTC production in 2018.