THEATRE BY FRANK McKONE
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, adapted for the stage and directed by Jasan Savage. The University of Canberra Union and Young World Theatre at UCU Theatre, The Hub, UC, January 12-24, 2004 (Mon-Fri 10.30am & 2.30pm; Sat 2.30pm only).
This is a light holiday presentation for young children, quite nicely done in parts, but struggling to match its ambitions.
Though Baum wrote the original story a century ago, like most people I have lived for my 63 years with young Judy Garland's Dorothy energetically skipping along the Yellow Brick Road with the Scarecrow with no brain, Tinman without a heart and the Cowardly Lion, in the classy 1939 movie: impeccable timing and never a dull moment. So it was disappointing to walk in to the lively recording of the film soundtrack, which suddenly stopped. After a silence broken by some other unrelated music, and another silence while the Narrator and Dorothy entered the auditorium and sat about waiting, and more bits of soundtrack, and then a light on the front curtain, into which the Narrator finally walked to "tell us a story", I have to say I was amazed at the patience of toddlers and their obviously very polite parents.
After hearing the story of the Kansas tornado taking Dorothy's house up into the sky with her and Toto on board, as if from a mildy well-trained primary school teacher, the play began. At this point, I hoped, there would be action and movement to stir the children along, but no - just the Good Witch talking and answering Dorothy's questions. Only slowly did the storyline get moving towards the Emerald City and the Wizard himself. Although each actor played their character well, this adaptation left any excitement until the Scarecrow fell about needing stuffing without being tickled too much and we, the Munchkins, were asked to help Tinman not to cry so he wouldn't get rusty or to make a forest of hands for the travellers to hide in away from the nasty Witch of the West. With the small audience inevitable in this tiny theatre, it was hard work for the actors to establish warmth and rapport with the children. It wasn't quite the "magical fun filled, laughing, scary time" the program promised.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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