Dorothy in Oz almost tapped into the spirit of a fine comedy. It was rather like occasionally striking the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, with odd and clunky bits in between.
Immersion Theatre’s production takes both Return to and The Wizard of Oz and mashes them together, sending them up for comedic and, occasionally, pointless effect.
The best of the evening lay in the subversion of the childish heroes we know and love. Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion – who could think there was anything weird about these faithful friends? It is therefore funny and surprising when Scarecrow (James Clifford) turns up as a junkie, Tin Man’s (Paul Christian Rogers) heartlessness is translated literally to a metalhead with anger issues and Keith from Prodigy hair and finally, a sex-mad lion (Rob Tofield). ‘Put ‘em up’ has a whole new meaning for this t-shirt stained, porn addict who guzzles the wizard’s remedy – a jar of viagra – like there’s no tomorrow.
Interspersed and opening the show were the mental asylum scenes to which Dorothy (or Dottie), is relegated by Aunt Em. While a parody of both Oz installments must see the mental illness theme make an entrance, its treatment (excuse pun) didn’t work here. In the real Return to Oz, the squeaking trolley bearers, the fate of ashen faced Faruiza Balk under the Victorian electro shock machine, hold genuine places of terror in the landscape of childish memory. What we got in this Oz was an overacted and cliché version of terror. The Wicked Witch presided over her demonic treatments like a stock ‘bad’ character. Her patients, all ruined subjects from her experiments, took this as a chance to go full throttle on hamming it up, with convulsions, screaming and the make up department going to town on disfiguring facial scar effects. This is not the mature and clever twist on the Oz films that we get from Dottie and her comrades.
Certainly, this is a unique chance to see the Oz characters as you’ve never seen them before. And even for die-hard fans of the originals it’s hard not to giggle at this irreverent twist. The darker scenes need to find their place in the scheme of things however. If you’re off to see this Wizard of Oz, it’s not entirely wonderful but there are some lovely moments.