The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz - La Boite & The Danger Ensemble
The Wizard of Oz – La Boite & The Danger Ensemble

Dorothy’s Fabulous Friends.

Naturally, we entered the theatre by following the yellow brick road and the niggling magic of childhood welled up inside as we first clamped eyes on the marvellous hyper-colour set complete with the fabulous Margi Brown Ash busy inside her caravan. As an early arrival, it was thoroughly entertaining to watch other audience members take on the golden path (some strayed onto the Astroturf, some stuck fast to the road and some interacted while some tried desperately to ignore the characters that cavorted around them).

Dorothy (Caroline Dunphy), Tinman (Thomas Hutchins), Scarecrow (Thomas Larkin), the Cowardly Lion (Lucy-Ann Langkilde) and the Wicked Witch (Polly Sara) are dressed up just like they should be, like we remember them all gingham dresses and fake fur but all of their costume-shop costumes are left open at the back as if we are going to undress them when the play begins; to peel away the layers of story that they once belonged to – “once” because Dorothy and her cohorts have long since come to represent so much more in both Garland’s tragic life and our own. After a brief appearance as the trippy, itching, fluro-bikini wearing munchkins (loved them) who nervously herald their freedom after the death of the wicked witch, the trio return to accompany Judy and Toto along the road to Oz and costumes are modernised – Scarecrow reminiscent of Robin Hood, Tinman looking like a medieval knight and Cowardly Lion looking almost like a Mongol warrior reinforcing those timeless and recurring archetypes.

The Wizard of Oz - La Boite & The Danger EnsembleBut this story really begins with Judy Goddamit! (the delightful, entertaining and acrobatic (see the shoes) Margi Brown Ash) a washed-up, chain-smoking drunk, alone in her trailer as a storm approaches.  Refusing pleas to head to safety, Judy waits, storybook in hand, for the storm to take her back – back to Oz – where life was a fantasy and it was a darn good one. When she gets there however, some things aren’t quite as she remembered them. She isn’t even who she thought she would be and the fantasy starts to unravel revealing the unreliable nature of memory, dreams and identity and that very human of desire to find a way back to the supposed good old days.

There’s not much about this production that I didn’t love (perhaps the shouting dissertations were a little over done) but The Danger Ensemble and their new playmates have pretty much hit every nail on the head. Supporting the outstanding performances and brilliant set and costume design, Ben Hughes lighting was magnificent and inventive as was Dane Alexander’s sound and composition (inspired pop song “everything’s better with the Wiz” a clever replacement old timer “over the rainbow” as the signature tune).

When La Boite’s Artistic Director, David Berthold decided to shake up the Danger Ensemble by introducing new collaborators – writer Maxine Mellor, designer Simone Romaniuk and actors Margi Brown Ash and Thomas Larkin to their team, I wonder if he sensed just how wonderful it would turn out to be.

Berthold set them the challenge to explore L. Frank Baum’s children’s story, which of course became the MGM classic movie and Judy Garland’s signature film for better or worse and in true Danger Ensemble style, they took a great story and twisted its head off to see what would spill out. Mellor’s task was surely daunting, to capture what must have been a wild stream of visions by the ensemble and reign it right in, wrapping it up in a neat eighty minutes of inspired mayhem; the writer humbly notes the collaborative nature of the final product with her comment “it’s not mine, it’s theirs” and further encouraging the audience with “it’s not just ours, it’s yours” and nothing could be closer to the truth as each audience member has followed that promised path, some to glory and some to destruction.

The Wizard of Oz is the Danger Ensemble I’ve been waiting for. With delightful surprises at every turn, this dark exploration of The Wizard of OZ and all that sits behind the legend would make Tim Burton gag with jealousy. Playing at La Boite until 28 September, if you can only see one thing at this year’s Brisbane Festival, this has got to be it, leave all the straight-laced stuff for another time.

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