Fantastic visual feast as The Wizard of Oz soars on Chichester stage

The Wizard Of Oz, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, until December 29

The Wizard of Oz - Photo by Pete Jones
The Wizard of Oz - Photo by Pete Jones

Lucy Betts masterminds a gorgeous visual feast in this hugely enjoyable production of one of the great Christmas classics.

With costume designer Ryan Dawson Laight, Betts conjures consistently the most remarkably beautiful pictures on the stage.

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The first half closes with the fabulous whites and reds of the snowmen and the poppies; the second half opens the beautiful greens and golds of Oz.

And to top it all, with superb choreography adding to the colour of it all, the jitterbugs add the night’s great highlight.

But of course, none of this would have counted for anything terribly much if Betts hadn’t had the brilliance to coax the very best out of her large cast. Fortunately, she has got it in abundance, peopling her stage with a vast array of impressive, confident performances.

It helps that this is The Wizard of Oz with the proper songs, so to speak; and the cast rise to the challenge. Yes we know the songs, but the company offer them in ways that always knock the film and past productions clean out of our minds.

There is a freshness and an energy to everything in this show which is completely beguiling.

Tonight’s Dorothy was Ella O’Keeffe (read interview), and her delivery of Somewhere Over The Rainbow was breath-taking, all part of a rich and nuanced performance which held our whacky story together.

Along the way, Dorothy meets the Tin Woodsman (played by Joe Clines), the Scarecrow (Alfie Scott) and the Cowardly Lion (Richard Chapman), all three persuasively brought to life by the talented actors inhabiting them.

Interview with PollyFlorence Clarke, wicked in both this world and Oz, similarly impresses as both Miss Gultch and the Wicked Witch of the West. Evie Carter beautifully embodies goodness in the twin roles of Aunt Em and Glinda.

Luc Oratis as Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz equally owns the stage – another great performance from a complete stage natural.

Excellent too, meanwhile and virtually throughout, from Ellie Dickens, Toto’s animator. Not for a moment does Toto cease to be sniffing and exploring whichever world he happens to be in.

Put it all together, add in the colour of the costumes, and it’s yet another truly great night from Chichester Festival Youth Theatre.

Last year’s Sleeping Beauty was notable too, but its bizarre second half gave director Betts some pretty duff stuff to work with. This year, she’s orchestrating a piece worthy from first to last of the fantastic talents she’s got at her disposal – and everyone responds beautifully.

But the icing on the cake, the thing which really makes the night soar, is Betts’ sureness of touch in giving us something quite so stunning to look at.

Designer Simon Higlett’s sparse dark set is the perfect platform from which the cast and costumes can truly sparkle.

Huge hard work has so obviously gone into this production; the beauty of the production is that the work has been so richly rewarded by the end result.

It seemed a shame that both Bognor and Chichester were giving us The Wizard of Oz this Christmas. In the event, it has been fascinating to see two such utterly different takes on the tale. The only sensible response is to make sure we see both!