The purple curtain has giant letters “Adventure to Oz” written all over it. As it rises, the colours deepen and the traditional Christmas show at Chickenshed start. This year it is a loosely imagined sequel to The Wizard of Oz. Tinman and Scarecrow rule over respective lands and Dorothy is friends with the current ruler of Oz, Queen Ozma.
The giant O from the curtain’s decoration turns into an all-seeing Eye, a magic crystal ball at the service of benevolent Oz rulers who put their subjects under routine surveillance to make sure the populace is as happy as they can be.
The show starts by a Patchwork girl magically brought to life from a blanket by an “wicked” sorcerer (because he does not have a licence). She sets off to accompany Ojo, the Unlucky Munchkin on his journey to Oz.
The conflict of the story is creative and unusual attempt to centre a sequel on secondary characters, regular everyday people rather than perpetuating a protagonist hero narrative with the old ones. The Baum’s heroes certainly show up but they are quite insignificant to the story. This idea of reversing the main and secondary characters’ relationships resonated with me a lot. What happens to the wordless creatures in every play when they leave the stage of the main story? Do they then become primary in their story, or there are ones that are doomed to be plot devices, and not plots themselves? Here on stage they have their voice heard.
The costume designs and mise en scene are an splash of colour on the stage. The songs are catchy with decent voices from the cast. Queen Ozma of the Oz (played by Eloise Runnett) has a voice so dreamy, so passionate, it feels almost too good to be in this universe of festive light-heartedness.
Adventure to Oz is a fascinating, well-punctuated production. Some of the scenes and director’s inventions that happen here every ten minutes would be a made into centrepieces by a less talented kids show company. Here they serve just as a comma in the flow of the story, not an exclamation mark.
The BSL translators, Tom Dowes and Loren Jacobs have a play within a play, a universe of their own. You can easily just come for their performance, to watch how much fun they have on the stage, how they manage to convey different characters to the audience.
Apart from its merits as a children’s Christmas show, with its dreamy landscapes, wacky adventures and joyful resolution, there is are satirical clues for the parents to pick up. Further to the magical overbearing eye, there is ever so subtle social commentary, like characters “getting angry at the words that we do not know”, building a wall, and resisting authority. You do not have to see through these clues, but when you do, it gives the whole production a whole second meaning.
The theatre manages to deliver compelling and entertaining using Chickenshed’s signature mixture of colours, songs and stories. Coming to Chickenshed for Christmas is like seeing an old friend, pure joy, warmth and belonging.
The pictures are a courtesy of Chickenshed. The Adventure of Oz is on until 7th January and you can get tickets here.