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The Wizard of Oz, New Theatre Oxford

By Arianwen Herbert

You might think you know and love The Wizard of Oz, but this production will take your breath away. As a seasoned musical theatre nut, I delighted at the opportunity to attend the press night at the New Theatre, Oxford, and was prepared to relax back in my seat and enjoy the nostalgia of a musical close to my heart. But I had no such chance!

From their very first note the orchestra plunged us into the world of the Wizard, bringing Arlen and Lloyd Webber's notes to life with an arresting vigour. It is not often I find myself thinking much about the accompanying music during a musical; Iestyn Griffiths' musical direction was simply mesmerising to witness.

I couldn't imagine a more perfect Dorothy than Aviva Tulley. She was the perfect balance of naivety and grit, and had the most charming rapport with her rag-tag crew of accomplices. Listening to her sing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' felt like hearing it for the first time, with such clarity of tone and an effortless, open vibrato.

Benjamin Yates, Martin McCarthy and Nic Greenshields were charming in their bumbling, lovable portrayals of Dorothy's found family. From farm hands to fantastical characters, the trio tugged on the audience's heartstrings, driving home the show's message of 'home is where the heart is'. One of my favourite quirks of this musical is watching these three, along with Aunty Em (Emily Bull), Uncle Henry (David Burrows) and the Wizard (Alex Bourne) transform into their magical counterparts and back again, and the actors' characterisation through this transition was delightful.

The Vivienne was an exceptional Wicked Witch of the West, a role that has now seen many iterations between the Wizard and Wicked. She commanded the stage (and the balcony at times!), striking terror into us all with an unparalleled presence and flair. Emily Bull as Glinda and Alex Bourne as the Wizard played perfectly into these classic characters, striking the perfect balance of sugary sweet with a sinister undertone.

To save one of the best 'til last, a special mention absolutely must go to Abigail Matthews for her stunning portrayal of everyone's most-loved character, Toto the dog. In her hands, Rachael Canning's puppet acted more like a dog than most dogs I've seen; she was never for one moment sat still.

The overall design and production was flawless, with a minimalistic set design complemented by tasteful use of projections onto the back wall, and no shortage of flashing lights to boot. Indeed, from the moment we stepped into the New Theatre's Piano bar we were welcomed by our very own yellow-brick road. This production is not one to miss; be this your first musical or be you a seasoned patron, none will be disappointed.

Get your tickets here!


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