Brought to life by Liam Steel and a team of talented creatives, The Birmingham REP's bold reworking of the Wizard of Oz is a magical triumph.

Director Liam Steel was more than right to be concerned about taking on L.Frank Baum‘s The Wizard of Oz for the Birmingham REP‘s festive show this year.

As one of the most dearly loved movies of all time, it’s more than likely that most of the audience members will have seen it, bringing memories and preconceptions along with them. Steel’s production tells the story afresh with creativity and skill – Oz closely mirrors the Kansas that Dorothy has left behind and his vision, with input from designer Angela Davies has resulted in a truly cohesive production. A lot of love, care and attention has been poured into the set, costumes, score, and musical direction to seamlessly transport the audience to a newly-imagined, 21st Century Oz.

The show follows the familiar story of Dorothy, played by Chisara Agor with a fantastic injection of strength and determination, as a twister hits Kansas and transports her away Somewhere, Over the Rainbow to the land of Oz. She meets the Scarecrow, played by Ed Wade with incredible gymnastic ability, Dillon Scott-Lewis‘ body-popping Tin Man and Kelly Agbowu‘s charming Cowardly Lion, who join her on her adventure to find her way back home to Kansas.

Once they reach the Emerald City, beautifully reimagined as the Vegas of Oz with signs for ‘Hello Dozzy’, ‘McDoznalds’, ‘Les Mozerables’ and ‘Ozklahoma’, they are set the difficult task of retrieving the Wicked Witch of the West’s broomstick and the action continues with every member of the cast delivering knock out performances. The vocal prowess of Agbowuas the Cowardly Lion is a highlight – her solo in ‘If I were Queen’ gives ample opportunity for her stunning voice to shine.

The Wizard of Oz Ensemble Birmingham REP

The Wizard of Oz Ensemble, copyright Graeme Braidwood

The creative use of puppetry in this production deserves a special mention. The munchkin scene, in particular, is amazing, bonkers and quite unlike anything you’re likely to have seen before. The line between costume and puppet designs is well and truly blurred in this version of The Wizard of Oz puppets and actors alike are able to interact and respond to the physical performances of the remaining ensemble. It’s a true delight. Anyone who saw the equally charming 101 Dalmations last year at this venue will recall the gorgeous and ingenious dog puppets that were created and Toto’s puppet design appears to have been influenced by them. As a result, this puppet dog is adorable throughout his adventures in Oz thanks to Ben Thompson‘s sensitive puppetry skills.

The inclusivity of the show is exemplary – in the programme Steel reveals that he took a very flexible approach to casting, particularly with the Wicked Witch of the West, considering two women for the role before giving it to Jos Vantyler. The role can easily have turned into a really awful pantomime dame in the wrong hands, however, Vantyler avoids this in his performance. It’s a hilarious turn with snappy dialogue, astute and perfect for our time.

Instead of opting to see a more traditional pantomime over the festive season, I urge you to take your whole family to see this fabulous production. It appeals to all generations and you are guaranteed to fall in love with The Wizard of Oz all over again thanks to Steel and the whole team’s vision, hard work and energy. If you need convincing further before buying those tickets, blogger Ruth Millington has thought of ‘5 reasons why you must see this show‘ and you can give her reasons a read over on her blog.

★★★★★

The Wizard of Oz is at the Birmingham REP until the 13th January. Tickets are available on the website.