By Fanny Charles

The Wizard of Oz is a perennial favourite for youth theatre companies, originally a 1900 children’s story and then filmed in 1939, acclaimed as one of the greatest movies of all time.

It’s timeless, like many of the best stories, so hats off to Stage 65 director Dave Orme for refreshing this wonderful musical with some clever nods to the 21st century, with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s Kansas farmhands looking at their mobile phones and an instantly recognisable president’s voice on the radio after the storm.

Clever, too, not to overwork the contemporary references, although the brash and nasty bully Miss Gultch (Kirsty Souter) was a very 2019 urban figure, with her towering stilettos and strappy dress – so unsuitable for a farming area!

Stage 65 ensemble – photo by Ash Mills

The show calls for a large cast, with lots of colourful characters and opportunities for young people of all ages and abilities. Dave Orme brought great pace to the production, aided by smart choreography by Julia Cave, and a terrific accompaniment played by musical director and multi-instrumentalist Jim Whitcher and drummer Phil Marriott and keyboard player Dan Smith.

This is an exceptionally talented group, and there were terrific performances from all the principals – Kitty Fox as the feisty Dorothy (pictured top, by Ash Mills), Katie Ereira as Aunt Em and the good witch Glinda, Amy Whitham hilariously nasty as the Wicked Witch of the West, Oliver Hopkins as the cowardly lion doubling as farmhand Zeke, Rachel Burgess as the Tin Man and farmhand Hickory, Mackenzie Terry as Scarecrow and farmhand Hunk, and Natasha Payne as Professor Marvel and Oz The Great and Powerful.

It is impossible and invidious to pick out individuals among the many set-pieces and ensembles, but the five Crows were particularly good, and the Twister scene was exciting and very well directed.

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