February 21, 2010

Parallel Worlds

Filed under: Archive

The Wizard of Oz
By L.Frank Baum
Dunstan Playhouse, June 30.

Conceived by Simon McBurney and Devised by Complicite
State Theatre Company of South Australia
In association with Adelaide Festival Centre’s inSPACE Program
Space Theatre, July 2 .

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

Nothing can quite match The Wizard of Oz. Ever since Judy Garland, as Dorothy, was spun from black and white Kansas into the dazzling lolly- coloured world of Oz in the 1939 MGM film version, the imaginative characters, the chirpy songs and the wise charm of the story have kept their immense appeal. So when Windmill gives this classic a new, more contemporary turn – there is anticipation and perhaps some apprehension also.

In Rosemary Myers’ brightly inventive production the farm in Kansas has become a caravan park, Aunt Em is a curvy blonde, the farm hands are her rather dubious admirers, and mean old Miss Gultch zips around on an invalid’s scooter. But the centre of the story – Dorothy’s big adventure, with faithful dog, Toto – is resolutely maintained. The three fellow travellers have changed a little – the Scarecrow is now a scatty male model from a billboard, but he’s still in search of a brain, the Tin Man looks more like a samurai but is still wanting a heart, and the Lion, while possessing a Vegas Elvis jumpsuit and faux fur mane, could also use some courage.

Jonathan Oxlades’ appealingly illustrative stage designs, cleverly projected in Chris More’s video design and delightfully lit by Geoff Cobham, give the production an energy and scale, matched by Jethro Woodward’ s music – salting Harold Arlen’s tunes with guitar riffs, beats, loops, and splashes of Hammond organ from co-performer Paul White.

The cast – led by the marvelous Ursula Yovich, full of beans as Dorothy and extraordinary when she stops the show with her soulful reading of “Over the Rainbow” – is impressive. Hamish Fletcher as the long, lanky Toto, Luke Clayson as the flop-haired Scarecrow, Patrick Graham and Ezra Juanta as the Tin Man and Lion, Jude Henshall as Aunt Em ( and the ditzy Glinda) and Alirio Zavarce as the Wizard – all contribute strongly. Geoff Revell, hilarious as the prune-faced Miss Gultch and the Wicked Witch of the West (Tilda Swinton meets Rob Zombie) almost steals the show.

Windmill has created a new Wizard with freshness and flair. There are aspects of the story which could be more carefully paced – the citations from the Wizard for courage, heart and brains, for instance, could be less flippantly dispatched. But, overall, this is a show which could wiggle its red shoes and travel anywhere.

Mnemonic, from Simon McBurney’s UK company, Complicite, is one of those Butterfly Effect narratives like Babel and Crash, and State Theatre’s production from last year, Attempts on Her Life. They are fragmented – interlinking stories which make magic jumps and where coincidence is more like destiny. Such plays are intriguing, but also somewhat arbitrary, implying greater depths than they really have, and suggesting life as a wondrous chain when it might just be a series of Google clicks.

Adam Cook’s production does well in connecting us to this meditation on meaning – those we make in our “sprouting” brain synapses and those mapped out over time and space. In time, we go back to the life, death and culture of a 5000 year old Ice Man, found in the Austrian alps and preserved with artifacts, clothing and stomach contents which remain ambiguous, obscure, and finally, unfathomable, to the squabbling experts trying to read these traces and entrails.

Even in the present, facts can be opaque – as Alice (Lizzie Falkland) pursues, through the turbulent historical landscape of modern Europe, a father she never met, leaving Virgil (Nick Pelomis) in distraction about her own disappearance. Lives criss-cross as Alice meets the serially migrating taxi driver, Simonides (Renato Musolino) and the journalist Daniel (Roman Vaculik) The performances are well-matched and engaging, Brian Thomson’s set is elegantly spare, and Stuart Day’s music amiably ambient. With Mnemonic, Adam Cook has given us a suave, entertaining conundrum but perhaps it asks (and answers) rather less than we think.

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