Review: Oz Tobacco Factory Theatres

A long pandemic enforced break has seen Tobacco Factory Theatres defiantly bounce back this Christmas with yet another brilliant new show. In their usual fashion of bringing a new story every year, this season’s take is the much-loved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or, in this instance ‘Oz’.

Working with Pins and Needles Productions and putting a fresh and revitalised spin on the tale, the South Bristol venue shows exactly why the city’s theatre scene is amongst the best in the country for producing original children and family focused theatre.

But, don’t be fooled into thinking this is purely one for the kids. The captivating and innovative production is an adventure suitable for everyone. From its dramatic opening scenes to the bittersweet resolution in its closing moments, it’s definitely the pick-me-up we all need right now.

Oz is a twist and turn of adventure, friendship, wonderment and finding out who you really are. It’s about developing your voice, questioning the world around you, knowing it’s OK to be scared sometimes and that you can learn to love yourself again, even after heartbreak.

It’s all blended into brilliant storytelling told through physical theatre, puppetry and song. We are taken along for the ride from being thrust into dramatic storms, seeing the early buds of friendship and guided by the Yellow Brick Road towards a somewhat dystopian city of Oz. Towards the end, we have a swirling cinematic scene triggered by the death of the Wicked Witch of the West and seeing Dorothy leave Oz returning to safety.

Straight away, the story plunges you into the action, in a truly gripping scene. To say more about how Dorothy arrives in Oz Over the Rainbow feels like a spoiler. The scene is reminiscent of Ozma of Oz/Return to Oz and sets up a beautiful imaginative world to set the foundations of the story.

Side stepping any potentially problematic elements upon Dorothy’s arrival in Oz, what we get instead is a land transformed from the dark and sepia opening to a colourful land of fantastical beings and dreamy settings.

The Emerald City is a breathtaking immersion into what feels like a strong Doctor Who storyline. A futuristic world that’s not out of context for the story but also highly relatable to our own. Dorothy is like the Doctor, with the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion her close-knit companions. Together, they traverse the unusual land populated with flying creatures, Hammer-Heads, fairies and of course the ‘monster of the week’ Wicked Witch of the West.

How do you fight a powerful witch who can control the world around you and use it to attack when you’re telling a story in theatre in the round? Through the medium of retro video game, which is an unexpected delight.

The Wizard reveal when it comes is a clever twist, making you feel you’ve landed feet first into a Black Mirror episode for youngsters. It’s a show that isn’t condescending to its young audience members, not shying away from bigger questions. Do we want to take a moral choice to wake up to a post-Matrix reality or carry on with our blinkers? – Again very Whovian.

Pulling everything together is a brilliant cast. Adiza Shardow is Dorothy, haunted and driven by the sense of what she can’t quite remember and rediscovering who she is along the way. She teaches children how to be brave, to be real. She doesn’t just present as a character in a story but a role model for young girls trying to find their way and themselves through a tricky and at times difficult to navigate real world.

Her growing friendship with Scarecrow Georgina Strawson is lovely. Strawson’s comedic scarecrow is little more than two days old, yet already facing the beginnings of an existential crisis.

Martin Bonger is the all-seeing flamboyant Wicked Witch of the West, blending humour with a sinister edge. He also doubles as the Wizard and worst of all, a ‘civil servant’ guarding the gates of the city with the joy of a Local Authority employee at 4.55pm on a Friday afternoon.

Joseph Tweedale is grumpy but lovable Tin Man – the broken-hearted metal man with an axe, who learns to love again through the power of friendship.

Whilst Alison Fitzjohn is Queenie the Lion making up the famous quartet, her fun, feisty fairy setting Dorothy off to see the Wizard is a brilliant bit of scene stealing.

Between the company, they pull together a performance that is a treat.

If you’re only seeing one show this Christmas make it this one. And, if you’re seeing two shows this Christmas, make it this one twice.

Oz is at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 16 January 2022

Sign Language Interpreted Performances:
Wednesday 15 December at 7pm
Thursday 16 December at 12pm

Relaxed Performances
This is a performance specially adapted to create a more welcoming environment for audiences with additional needs
Wednesday 05 January 2022 at 6pm
Thursday 06 January 2022 at 12pm

For more information, or to book, visit: https://tobaccofactorytheatres.com/

Cast
Martin Bonger
Alison Fitzjohn
Adiza Shardow
Georgina Strawson
Joseph Tweedale


Creatives
Written by Sarah Henley, Emma Earle and Zoe Squire
Directed by Emma Earle
Assistant Director Katie Pasco
Designed by Zoe Squire
Assistant Designer Sam Wilde
Music by Jack Drewry
Sound by Jon Everett
Lighting by Chris Swain
Movement by Dan Canham
Puppet Makers Jess Jones, Isabel Lyster and Tish Mantripp
Costumer Supervisor Julie Herbert
Costume Makers Rhianna Good and Katie Vacara
Scenic Artist Meriel Pym
Assistant Scenic Artists Ellie Condon and Neamh Campbell
Assistant Prop Maker Rebecca Plant

Photos: Mark Dawson Photography

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