Theatre Review: The Wizard of Oz - Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh ✭✭✭✭

Review by Anne Mackie

Balerno Theatre Company took the yellow brick road by storm this week as they returned to the Church Hill Theatre to produce what was undoubtedly their most extravagant, ambitious and colourful production to date.

With a duo of flying witches, assorted soaring monkeys, sparks of fire and lavish video projections, BTC’s 2016 production had it all. Not to mention a cast (both ensemble and principal alike) so well-rehearsed it would put most professionals to shame. Leading the production was 15 year old Kirsten Keggie as the infamous Dorothy Gale. Keggie’s engaging, pure vocals and sense of innocence appropriately pushed the production forward, whilst her chemistry with Ozian friends - the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion proved both endearing and thoroughly infectious. Particular kudos must go to Rory MacLean as the Scarecrow, who, due to the ill health of Jamie Duffy, stepped into the straw-ragged costume with aplomb and gusto – and with only 48 hours notice! MacLean was aptly supported by Ade Smith as the Tin Man and Michael Davies as the Cowardly Lion, both of whom played their retrospective characters to a tee as they suitably (and zealously) bounded along the yellow brick road. Similarly, special mention must also go to Debbie Spurgeon as the Wicked Witch of the West/Miss Gultch and Naomi Sutton as Glinda the Good Witch. Spurgeon and Sutton complimented each other perfectly in their ongoing ‘good versus evil’ conflict, with Spurgeon oozing dark, malevolent cackling in contrast with Sutton’s sweet, luscious vocals. One thing is clear, this is a production that is impeccably well cast throughout. 

Aesthetically, BTC’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is a production that is hugely pleasing. Director Audrey Jones employed a very simple, unobtrusive set in her adaption of the famous musical, utilising signature pieces/props in conjunction with a lavish yellow brick road that led through the auditorium. The lack of a large, cumbersome set was enormously beneficial as it allowed for a series of swift, seamless scene changes; sustaining an unwavering pace throughout the production. Additionally, Jones’s revival incorporated a cleverly crafted lighting design which allowed for the effortless transition of a sepia tinged Kansas into the technicoloured realms of Oz. Visually, this was immensely captivating, bringing Dorothy’s journey to the Emerald City to life.

Musically, BTC pulled out all the stops in the Land of Oz under the baton of Musical Director, Ross Hamilton. The renowned score was as dynamic and charming as it should have been with illustrious ensemble harmonies across the board. Hamilton’s 13 piece orchestra was perfectly tuned throughout, coming into their own during full company numbers such as ‘The Merry Old Land of Oz’ which proved a real, feel good showstopper; fittingly reprised after the bows.

‘The Wizard of Oz’ is not typically a dance orientated production but Choreographers Sarah Jane Hogan and Lesley Smith employed just the right amount of ensemble movement in order to bring the Emerald City to life. Hogan and Smith utilised a cluster of talented young dancers throughout the production who could have benefited from some additional stage time and more demiurgic, less repetitive movement. Their pinnacle moment, ‘The Jitterbug’ verged on the somewhat more ‘monotonous’ than ‘monumental’, despite the clever, innovative concept of showcasing the number in UV light. With an able and committed dance troupe, there was the potential for more ingenious and creative choreography across the production.

It’s easy for an amateur company to take on the ‘Wizard of Oz’ but it’s a challenge to create a revival that is dynamic, engaging and charismatic throughout. Balerno Theatre Company successfully achieves all of this (and more!) as they break the boundaries of your average ‘am-dram’ production in order to produce an innovative and compelling piece of theatre that indubitably proves to be everything you could hope for this festive season. For want of a better expression, it was ‘OZ-fully’ good! 

So, ‘when all the world is a hopeless jumble’, there’s always Balerno Theatre Company...