Review by Sam Cooke
All photos by Abby Swain.
Wow. What a show. Dorothy (Fira Wakshum Bacha) and her friends Tim ‘the Tin Man’ (Tom Crawford) Leon ‘the Lion’ (Hope Curran) and Scarlet ‘the Scarecrow’ (Annie Horton) go to Fruity Friday’s with Tim’s girlfriend Whitney (Dominique Saayman). Jealous of their relationship, Dorothy gets paralytic-ly drunk and a magical fairy Glinda (Jenna Peche) sends her and the rest to the land of Oz-ley. Here they witness animals on the Oz-ley run, do a tonne of singing, and visit a drag queen wizard called Wanda (Callum Robertson) in her hair dressing salon ‘Blowjobs’.
The Wizard of Oz, written and co-directed by Rachel Tatam and co-directed by Demetria Paxton, took place in the Riley Smith Theatre, Leeds University Union from the 15th to the 17th of December 2022.
My friend and I entered the Riley Smith theatre to a atmosphere reminiscent of Fruity’s. Friends and family members drinking, laughing, chatting and listening to a pretty shitty playlist coming through the speakers. There really is no place like home.
Both directors produced the entire show themselves (alongside AP Annie Horton, who you’ll recognise also played Scarlet ‘the Scarecrow’ in the show) they really did the job. A small yellow brick road peaked through the closed curtains as we were waiting for the show to start. The sides were framed by moveable flats (transported by the best dressed backstage crew I’ve seen in a pantomime) and risen steps to create some interesting levels, and a nice acknowledgement to totally visible band centre back. This aspect made it especially heart-warming to see their conductor Adam Maghout having a boogie during musical interludes of the show.
Generally speaking on a show, the producers and directors will work together to create an outfit for each character. Since the producers and directors were the same people, I have no doubt they had a lot of fun in this process. Wanda wore the most interesting drag queen attire I’ve seen, a purple child’s Halloween outfit, but fit for a grown up. And to be fair to him, he totally rocked it. Glinda the fairy was another outfit highlight. Every seven year olds dream, she looked and acted straight out of a pink hazey daze. Whitney’s was probably the most… intriguing. The start of the show finds her at a club night, where she is wearing stripey prison break stockings and a black cut up dress. Which it totally fair enough. I have no issues with people wearing that out. To Fruity. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Dorothy (carrying her deathly hangover) and her gang meet up all in the land of Oz. Lost and alone, Dorothy picks them up along her way to give the failing uni student Scarecrow a heart, unsympathetic rugby boy a heart, and lonely butt-of-the-joke lion confidence from our drag queen wizard. All the while narrated by our beautiful Glinda, and brought to life by ‘George Bush’ (Vikash Madhi ) and the bunchkins, played by Naiya Patel, Amelia Farr, Sampriti Poddar, Adam Friedler, Joey Esquejo, Tabitha Gibson, Emily Pidcock, Riya Naskar, Yingting Ke, Shiwen Xue, Xinyue Luo, Salony Prajapati and Demetria Paxton (familiar name…?). Once they get to the wizard’s lair, they realise it is her salon ‘Blowjobs’, made in memory or her boyfriend Steve Hand Job. The wizard reminds the friends that they already have a brain, a heart and all the confidence they could ever need. The show ends, and everyone is happy, dancing and proud of their progress with life.
There were clear moments in this show where the script is trying to mock ‘mysoginistic rugby boys’ – a funny line to draw? Sure! There are definitely plenty of posh Leeds (especially uni of) stereotypes to make fun of. Saying this, and to use the words of Armando Iannucci, making fun of the left just seems to leave a ‘bitter taste in the mouth’. There were moments where I was unsure that the majorities were the actual butt of the joke, and it seemed that either the writing or the direction (or perhaps a mixture of the two) was pushing the mocking onto the minorities. The show started with Dorothy (played by Fira Wakshum Bacha) getting too drunk and high at LUU’s infamous Fruity Friday to deal with the pain of seeing her crush and his girlfriend together. Already teeming with insecurities, the protagonist is called a number of poorly chosen names. None of which are then taken back, or mocked in their own way. Another moment like this would be when the ‘Tory Rugby lad’ is asked for help from the bunchkins. They are seen to be begging him for help, without any autonomy for themselves, only for him to turn around and describe how he could but doesn’t care enough to financially help the Khaki City. Generally when toeing the line with comedy in this form, the aim is to make fun of the sexists, or the fascists. Whether this was tried and just didn’t quite meet the line, I’m unsure.
Famous numbers such as ‘Walking on Sunshine’ and ‘Ironic’ really showed through on this production. It was clear that the cast were having fun, and it was a lovely atmosphere to take part in. My only note would be that it was such a shame the ‘Toxic’ song was lip synced. Considering how meta and ‘out of the box’, even self-depreciating most of the jokes are with regards to the show, I was surprised this was totally glossed over. It seems like the perfect place for a little quip about singing. But alas, the dancing and backup singing was still gorgeous and gave the audience some giggles.
Backstage have ensured that the lighting in this show was executed brilliantly, one of the few times where I’ve seen lighting be pushed and produced so well in the first few shows. The timing really caught on to the emotion and hilarity of the show. From moments of audience participation in ‘500 miles’ where we were lit in coordination to the actual cast, to Whitney’s (Dominique Saayman) number of ‘Toxic’ where she moved from her human form to her truly (w)itchy self.
Saying this, I still had a great time watching the show. A few pints down to begin with, and a short 20 minute break to grab another few the union did help me make my way through the show. Riddled with tiktok memes, famous twitter threads, the meta-ness of the show definitely didn’t escape me. Jokes about it’s own plot holes, and oddly timed death of the witch had to be my favourite. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was chaotic to say the least. But what a great way to finish the semester.
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