Too soon for panto? Oh no it isn’t. Although The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was actually the 2014 Christmas show for Plymouth’s Barbican Theatre and proved so popular that it returned for another run at Easter this year and once more for a final 3 performances. Conceived by Devon-based troupe Le Navet Bete, it’s a rip-roaring, cross-dressing, roller-skating, Irish-dancing, popcorn-tossing gem of a show and thus it’s easy to see why it has engendered such popularity.
Whether by accident or design, it’s a canny choice of festive show – it’s a bit tougher to put on Dick Whittington in the middle of the year – but key to its success has surely been around the decisions to aim for a timelessness with the writing. Pantos often make their mark with up-to-the-minute jokes and musical numbers which is all fine and dandy, as they’re generally not looking far beyond the middle of the following January.
But here, as Dorothy and the Scarecrow lubricate the rusting Tin Man to the sound of Salt’n’Pepa (‘Aah, oiil him, o-o-o-oil him real good…’) and the Tin Man wishes he only had a heart by singing Foreigner’s ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’. And as topical humour is avoided for the visual gags of The Road of Yellow Bricks being made up of around 5 bricks constantly being moved to the front and a hilarious number of dick jokes (especially for a family show) centred around (or under) Dorothy’s pinafore.
And as with any comedy show, a huge part of the fun is the pleasure that the company get from performing and it’s clear that Al Dunn, Nick Bunt, Dan Bianchi, and Matt Freeman have huge affection for this material and each other, pushing each other to corpsing levels on several occasions, revelling in the audience interaction (to the point of climbing right over us!) and generally having just as much fun as we were. It’s almost enough to make me consider returning for this year’s Christmas show – The Jungle Book.