REVIEW (From a distance): The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Creation Theatre)

Creation Theatre have a knack for putting on shows that suit the strange times in which we live. Way back in March, one of Mummy’s final pre-lockdown theatre trips was to see Creation’s site-specific production of The Time Machine, an adaptation of an 1985 dystopian novel that proved to be far more relevant than could have been envisaged when it was conceived. Although their online Christmas show The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was designed to incorporate the isolation that has been the theme of much of this year, recent events have resulted in it once again quite literally hitting very close to home. Good job there’s no place like it….

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a Zoom-based production aimed at families of all ages, and featuring the kids of Creation at Home (Creation Theatre’s online drama classes) alongside a cast of professional actors. It’s the classic tale, but given a very modern twist, as Dorothy (Chloe Lemonius) escapes the boredom of isolation by entering into a video game world from which she cannot escape without making a journey down the electronic yellow brick road, and with a little help from some newfound friends.

Chloe Lemonius as Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Having watched Creation’s previous family show, Alice: A Virtual Theme Park, we were expecting great things on the technological front and we weren’t disappointed. Creation are continually pushing the boundaries of what can be done over Zoom, to the extent that they are now even able to create depth in scenes containing multiple actors (all of whom are performing in front of green screens in their individual houses). The trade off for doing this live is some slightly fuzzy graphics at times, but we’d rather have it this way than watch something recorded. There is less use of the audience interaction in this production than their previous show, which we felt was a bit of a shame as it’s the main reason that we particularly enjoy Zoom theatre. It was used to audition household pets for the role of Toto, but this fell a little flat and could have done with being more fully integrated into the action.

The concept is great, taking a swipe at social media and influencer culture, which ties in beautifully with the original storyline and the idea of the Wizard as a character who generates a false image in order to retain his position of power. The performances are fantastic all around and there are some very funny moments in the script, particularly the one-liners delivered by the Cowardly Lion (Simon Yadoo). The use of retro video games is a nice touch, which anyone older than Generation Z will appreciate. (Mummy’s particular favourite was Tetris). There is also a fun update to the Tinman (Tom Richardson) who becomes a glitching computer chip who is fixed by keyboard shortcuts instead of the traditional oil can!

Simon Yadoo as The Cowardly Lion in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Creation have made a real effort to make it feel like a proper theatre experience, with a reminder at the start to put away phones and an encouragement to grab some snacks and pre-show drinks. There is even an interval, which is unusual for a Zoom based show, although it did feel a little on the long side, particularly given the lack of audience interaction. In another really great touch, there is also an opportunity to book a party room (a Zoom breakout room), allowing friends and family watching from different houses to come together afterwards.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is another really ambitious production from Creation which showcases the technological capacity of Zoom as a means of making live theatre and harnesses a classic tale to tell a contemporary story. A fun option for anyone missing live family theatre this Christmas.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz plays from 19 December 2020 to 3 January 2021. We received a complimentary ticket in return for a review.