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Henfield Theatre Company’s Wizard of Oz Review

4th March 2024

The following is taken from a review by Susanne Crosby of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) who reviewed Henfield Theatre Company’s recent fabulous pantomime.

“The introduction as a film: moving lights, the 20th Century Fox and MGM music, followed by the Cowardly Lion with is head through a toilet seat which he then opened and roared through, like the MGM lion, was total genius! It set the tone perfectly, let us know what was about to follow had elements of ridiculous, and showed what a sense of humour Henfield Theatre Company have. It was the funniest opening of any show for a very long time and laughter took a very long time to die down. Brilliant!

… The costumes and makeup throughout the whole show were superb, as always with Henfield Theatre Company. Scarecrow, Lion, Tin Man, Wicked Witch including blacked out tooth, plus Toto the dog were all detailed and amazing, as were the four trees, plus Aunty Em’s ever changing wigs and costumes depending on the scene. The people in the Emerald City were green from costumes to wigs, as they should be, and the ruby slippers looked like they had just come out of the film. Everything had authenticity and care flowing from it.

The changing sets included projections and in some cases moving projections, like the tornado, which worked really well. The steps down at the front which became part of the yellow brick road also lit up with LED lights which was a lovely touch. The massive hourglass looked like it came straight out of the film, and the sign painting and painted bushes and log worked so well. The House having fallen with the legs out underneath was brilliant, perfectly placed size wise as well as space. Glinda bending and taking a selfie in front of it was hilarious. The Wizard at the end being buffeted in his hot air balloon basket with balloons tied to the top, moving through the audience, was so very funny…

Becky Pearson as Dorothy had really lovely stage presence, leading the whole show with innocence, warmth and a touch of vulnerability: a combination that never once became irritating as is so often the case. Toto, her side-kick (dog) was played with graceful exuberance by Chloe Denyer who showed some great physical acting skills and well as adding her beautiful singing voice to the piece. The shaking that she and Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man did when they were scared, including at the knees, was just right and so very funny. The camaraderie between Becky Pearson and Chloe Denyer including the dancing really exuded to the audience as well which was both joyful and joyous to experience. All the actors reacted really well to the audience participation and whooped them up appropriately to feel part of the whole show.

There were some young hecklers shouting very funny derisory comments to the Wicked Witch played by Sarah Jenner-Jones which she handled really well. Her performance was full commitment as well, a joy to watch, including her sad ‘aside’ lamenting that she had been in ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ yet here she was in this – super funny. Indeed all of the funny moments in the Panto seemed to come from things that they had added in, rather than the script itself, those scripted jokes were really very old and some not even worth a groan response. Terry McMaster as Aunty Em was thwarted by awful jokes: it was really admirable of him to keep going with great energy despite that. Luke Punt as Harry Trotter (not Harry Potter!) looking more and more like Harry Potter with additional costume pieces each time he came on was really funny. Ian Henham was a lovely Cowardly Lion and Alex Carter was a sweet humble Scarecrow and friend to Dorothy, with great energy throughout. David Purchase was hilarious as a massively camp Tin Man, with really funny innuendo jokes. A Tin Man many of us will have never seen before and are glad we have. The always hilarious Helen Fyles was a fabulous Glinda, getting calls on her mobile while on stage. She has a really natural funny bone and great comic timing.

What really lifted this whole show bizarrely were the Wicked Witch’s two flying monkeys: Salt and Pepper, played by Ashtyn Roworth and Robyn Thomas. The gangsta / rapper attitudes and songs, their performance of ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ – a tricky song – was brilliant. They were fully committed in their characters and all their movements throughout the show which was a joy to see. Their presence made a show that was good into a show that was very, very good.

There were some really lovely touches to this and super attention paid to movement… The music choices, some with reworded lyrics, were instantly recognisable popular choices and made everyone happily clap along. The choreography was just right, lovely detail, everyone moved together and had finished lines. The dancing on different levels especially in Rock DJ was really great.

What also stands out for Henfield is the inclusivity. This was a whole community in the company coming together. The support that everyone on stage showed each other throughout was heart-warming to experience: from teenagers to the very oldest; from seasoned actors to others who may never have been on stage before. Director Karen Blunden, who also choreographed, should be congratulated on a super show that left every single audience member beaming and smiling as they left: having seen such a charming joyful show with such heart.”