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Haymarket - The Wizard of Oz

6th December 2007 to 5th January 2008.

From the Basingstoke Gazette.

I'd had good feelings about this first Christmas show - and the first in-house production - at the revamped Haymarket since speaking to its experienced, eloquent director Richard Williams.

And hasn't he just pulled it all out of the bag to delight Basingstoke's families this winter!

His treatment of L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz is a disarmingly charming night out at the theatre, a marvellously visual spectacle which meshes sophisticated technology with classic storytelling to create a superb end result.

He's cleverly retained the look and iconography of the characters which were established by MGM's 1939 film, moving from the monochrome opening to glorious colour. Right down to her pigtails, blue gingham and white ankle socks, The Haymarket's Dorothy appears just as Judy Garland does on screen, and all of the major characters are similarly recognisable.

On the night I attended, I was delighted that Basingstoke's own Sydney Aldridge, a pupil of Kelly Hopkins Theatre Arts, would be performing the role of Dorothy, a part she shares with Newbury's Georgina Hendry.

The 15-year-old is a wonderfully self-possessed young actress with a beautiful voice, and she didn't falter once, remaining completely composed when the technology had a momentary off-moment or when the dog actor playing Toto - whose entrance garners the biggest "aw" of each evening - plonked his bottom on the stage and refused to budge.

The rest of the cast are equally good, playing to the hilt and mining every possible bit of humour from their roles. Michael Roberts' Lion, with his gurning and fretting, is a particular hit, but everyone, across the board, impresses. Andrew Price has a ball playing three characters, while James Rigby brings across the unique physicality of the Scarecrow and Ian Harris is a tender Tin Man, who may even draw a tear from you towards the play's conclusion.

Jo Castleton cackles to brilliant effect as the Wicked Witch of the West, while Lindsay Lauer's Glinda is a delightfully batty vision in white sparkles.

There's just so much to enjoy in this production: the sumptuous costumes, inventive production design, Mary Macadam's sterling work performing the entire soundtrack from a small platform to the right of the stage and the computer graphics, which have to cope with effects as diverse as a tornado and a disembodied Wizard.

And the "homegrown" element is maintained with the chorus of local children who play the munchkins, monkeys, Oz residents and, best of all, crazy Jitterbugs. Their input is the icing on the cake of this fully realised Christmas cracker.


From The Stage.

One would be hard pushed to find a production that is more true to everyone’s memory of the original than this delightful offering at the Haymarket Theatre.

Its minimal cast, who perform the main roles, give superb performances and what is initially seen as a sparse set is full of surprises, with holographic images and projected backdrops that cleverly add magic and depth of credibility to the variety of scenes.

Most notably, the poppy field is effectively recreated with imaginative projections onto a gauze and the Emerald City glistens with shards of green gemstones.

At this particular performance, Georgina Hendry took the role of Dorothy with a confidence belying her 14 years, working on an equal level to that of the other main characters.

Fifteen-year-old Sydney Aldridge alternates the role and they are both understudied by Ellie Bradshaw.

Jo Castleton is dramatically powerful as the Wicked Witch of the West with Lindsey Lauer as the sickly sweet Glinda the Good Witch.

Ian Harris, Michael Roberts and James Rigby give archetypal performances, fortifying the traditional memories of the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow respectively.

Andrew Prices completes the cast as Uncle Henry, the eccentric Guard and the Wizard himself.