Mon, 21 Dec 2020
Creation Theatre: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Performed live via Zoom until Saturday, January 3
Review by JON LEWIS
GARI Jones’ Creation Theatre Company live zoom production of Frank L Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz begins with the heroine, Dorothy (newcomer Chloe Lemonius) alone at home. A young woman, a computer screen in her room displays a film of someone running on a beach. She puts up an A4 drawing of a rainbow in support of the NHS in her window. She says she misses hugs and has forgotten what it’s like to feel loved. Wryly sassy, Dorothy is a singleton finding it hard to cope in the pandemic.
This is a full-length digital play with music and songs. Dorothy encounters a good witch (drag act Le Gateau Chocolat, doing a blowsy pantomime dame routine) who encourages her to ‘find the magic’. She disappears into the screen with a pun on her name, a dot … dash … dot … dash and a thunderclap taking her into the surreal, digital, dayglo world of Oz. Immediately there’s a youth-pleasing animated video game of good witch v bad witch (videographer, Stuart Read) ending in the demise of the bad witch and a collapse of a tall tower block. Dorothy is not in Camden anymore.
While we can see all other audience members on screen creating that all-important feeling of shared experience (many former Creation and Big Telly artists in attendance), audience involvement is limited to the choice of a pet to become Toto (a cat was selected). Jones focuses on the marriage between animations and live action. Scenes make excellent use of green screen technology to place the live actors within the varied virtual backgrounds and the overlaying of screens giving a depth of field to scenes that’s advanced for the platform. The quality of the sewing together of separate screens to show Dorothy, and her new companions, a brainless scarecrow (Dharmesh Patel), a heartless tin man robot (Tom Richardson), and a lisping cowardly lion (Simon Yadoo), strolling down the yellow brick road, is state of the art. When the foursome enjoy a group hug, fulfilling one of Dorothy’s lockdown needs, the audience is nudged into noticing the cleverness of the merging of frames by the actors’ jokey meta-theatrical jokes about blurry hands.
Ryan Dawson Laight’s costumes are typically low-tech, but bold. Oz, the wonderful wizard, is played by Creation regular Annabelle Terry, a wonky letter W attached to her cap. She dominates the play with her exuberance, driving the action as she impels her minions to attack Dorothy and her companions. Oz’s slaves, such as the flying monkeys, are played by 70 children from Creation’s youth theatre, their faces fitting onto animations using the green screen technology. Terry’s stunning final scene, not the coda of her feeding her cats, is a reveal similar to Prospero’s abandonment of his magic in The Tempest, the play that started Creation’s digital adventures on Zoom in April. It is worth waiting for.
The overall message of the play is one of hope. Young viewers will see animations of brightly-coloured viruses being vanquished. Dorothy and her companions succeed in their quests by their own actions just like we are being advised to in the pandemic. And she returns home from Oz. At least she wasn’t stuck in Calais waiting for a ferry.
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