This absurdist re-interpretation of The Wizard Of Oz won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re willing to roll with its more offbeat moments there’s plenty both to enjoy and to reflect on. We open with Dorothy, but she’s not in Kansas any more: her aunt and uncle now seem to be fish-farmers, and the stage is strewn with their recent catch. Before long, of course, Dorothy’s carried off to Oz, where she meets the motley crew of misfits who’ll lead her to the wizard – and maybe, if she chooses, back home.
Don’t expect a close adherence to the plot of the book or film. The Scarecrow is initially the cheerleader of the group – but then meets a crow, and is distracted onto an existential debate about the nature of co-existence. The Lion is obsessed with her beautiful teeth, and has an unexpected story about how she lost her courage. The Tin Man, meanwhile, delivers a curiously affecting lumberjack-themed monologue – only slightly impeded by the fact that the ‘tree’ he’s talking to is dressed in a sheet-over-the-head ghost costume, with ferns for arms.
It’s all every bit as odd as the title suggests it will be – yet somehow, against all expectations, the whole thing works. Making Dorothy a gender-swapped, lanky, sulky teenager actually humanises her; it emphasises that she’s a lost girl in an unfamiliar world, and at times Nic Prior’s portrayal is quite deeply touching. Towards the end we get a telling deconstruction of the original story’s plot, and the general air of dystopian melancholy is a fitting alternative perspective on what it’s like to live in Oz.
The costumes are the right kind of wacky – I loved the Scarecrow’s enormous hands, and the Lion’s three-foot-high head – and those of us who remember K9 from Doctor Who will enjoy the robot-voiced Toto. Colin Yeo, who’s credited as playwright, director and sound designer, makes interesting use of reverb effects and infrasound, particularly to evoke the tornado which carries Dorothy so far away from home.
I won’t pretend I understood what every little detail meant, and it’s very possible that some of it doesn’t mean anything at all; but by taking familiar characters and applying a dark absurdist spin, Yeo has created something both dislocating and intriguing. There’s humour, mystery, and a surprisingly meaningful ending. There’s nothing quite like this play… just as surely as there’s no place like home.