It was the last Friday before Christmas and while some were hurriedly shopping for last-minute presents, and others lined the bars of the Big Market, we were off on a much more exciting adventure. We were off the see the wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz...
In recent years Northern Stage have made a reputation for their spectacular Christmas shows. Saving parents the burden of yet another pantomime (let's face it, there's only so much 'he's behind you' anyone can take), they offer retellings of best-loved children's stories instead. They sprinkled Peter Pan with magic fairy dust, created a miniature world for The Borrowers and this year they've taken on L. Frank Baum's iconic tale about munchkins, wicked witches and life Somewhere Over The Rainbow. With countless productions each year, and with Wicked the musical now a theatrical giant in itself, Northern Stage had their work cut out, but boy did they deliver.
Foregrounding the fun and adventure of the original tale, they waved goodbye to Judy Garland's clean-cut, pinafore-wearing Dorothy and a new rugged, Converse-wearing tomboy took centre stage, complete with gingham shirt and denim dungarees. With the spirit and attitude displayed by most 12 year olds, Dorothy flew from the miserable town of Greysby and her aged Aunt with barely a backward glance, eager to find adventure and a more exciting life.
Speaking of running away... The whole production was set against a backdrop of subtle and not-so subtle illusions to the circus. A coincidence? We think not.
Joined by an acrobatic scarecrow bending, wobbling and distributing straw all over the stage, a blubbering tin man with an addiction to WD40 and a bumbling, tweed-suit wearing lion (something relatively akin to Hugo in The Vicar of Dibley), Dorothy set off on her journey to Oz along the vibrant, colourful stage.
A pair of yellow brick escalators (very 21st century) were adorned with red and white chevrons like a Helter Skelter and framed by the red and yellow stripes of a big top. Lollipops, oversized balloons, trapeze rings and a musician dressed as a ringmaster completed the scene. And with a supporting cast that included treacherous monkeys, giant talking trees (like the Ents in The Lord of the Rings), field mouses (sporting poo-fuelled guns) and an evil monkey or two, there was plenty of fun and laughter along the way.
As with the original tale, the Wizard of Oz himself turned out to be a fraud, conjuring his own circus with smoke and mirrors. But like all the best children's stories this turned out to be voyage of self discovery. The tin man realises he had a heart all along (and now has the confidence to give it away to his true love), the scarecrow discovers an aptitude for learning and the lion harnesses his inner courage. And, of course, Dorothy realises that There's No Place Like Home.
We can't all fly over the rainbow (more’s the pity) but this heart-warming story truly captures the power of love and friendship. And isn't that what this time of year is all about? Merry Christmas everyone!
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is on at Northern Stage until Saturday 2 January. For more information and to book tickets visit www.northernstage.co.uk