Casting the lead for their Christmas show The Wizard of Oz with their own ‘Dorothy Idol’ talent search contest, the Lowry have been living quite dangerously. It is all the more daring when playing the role of the Wicked Witch of the West is none other than daughter of Judy Garland herself, Lorna Luft.
16 year old Katie Schofield won the role and in making her professional debut doesn’t do too bad a job, but to be brutally honest, there was little to mark her out as a particularly especial talent. Luft was great fun, camping it up with delight and the use of local children as the Munchkins added a nice touch especially with a cute Toto running around which appealed to the mostly young audience.
The choice to have the actors performing to a pre-recorded backing track, whilst something I do not like, could easily be a reflection of the economic times and the realities of employing orchestras, but it is more problematic in another sense. In terms of it being a Christmas show, it is akin to a pantomime and so the audience were dying to get involved, booing the witch, cheering Dorothy etc, but because the actors are working to strict time constraints, there’s no opportunity to react and engage with the audience. Consequently, Lorna Luft delivered most of her lines inaudibly through boos, unable to wait for them to die down and generally, it served to isolate the performance from its audience, difficult at the best of times and unforgivable at Christmas.
Combined with the use of a CGI wizard and video footage on the back wall, it unfortunately gave the sense of basically just not trying hard enough. There were good performances in there too, don’t get me wrong: Jamie Greer, Ian Casey and Joe Standerline were all good value for money as Dorothy’s genial companions on the yellow brick road and it is all performed with such good spirit that it is hard not to get swept along. But on leaving the auditorium and reflecting on the whole (especially with the ticket prices), it was hard not to feel a little bit cheated out of what should have been a genuinely great theatrical experience.