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The Wizard of Oz review, Nov 2014 - Farnham Herald

The Wonderful Wizard from BATS The much-loved musical The Wizard of Oz has a great deal to recommend it to an amateur company and is this season’s choice for the Basingstoke Amateur Theatrical Society (BATS). It has memorable, eminently hummable, tunes and the potential for a large and colourful cast, and is an uplifting tale of overcoming weakness and of good versus evil (though the killing rather than the redemption of the wicked witches).

The BATS production, which runs at The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke, until tomorrow (Saturday), is directed by Nick Brannam and is ambitiously staged and of an exceptionally high standard given that this is an amateur production.

In it, of course, we follow Dorothy and her friends, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion, along with Toto the dog, along the yellow brick road to see the wonderful Wizard of Oz and have their wishes fulfilled, pursued all the way by The Wicked Witch of the West.

Dorothy is played by Alyssia Kershaw who is in her first year of sixth form but has the poise and skills of someone much older. She plans a career in musical theatre and I would not be surprised to see her name up in lights one day.

The three who accompany her are Bryn Hughes as Tin Man, Craig Saunders as Scarecrow and Ian ‘Spud’ Smith as Lion, and all three are undoubtedly strong performers. Bryn and Craig have the particular challenges of moving like a tin man and a scarecrow and do so convincingly even when singing and dancing. The choreography throughout was impressive too.

Another character with great moves is the Emerald City Guard, performed with panache and great humour by Liam Brelsforth.

The ensemble, who play the Munchkins, citizens of Oz and a host of other characters (including a wonderfully inventive yet simple poppy field), sing and dance with skill to the music provided by an unflagging and equally skilled orchestra.

There are two teams of children and certainly the ones I saw – Team Baum – were energetic and enthusiastic and rarely put a foot wrong. Team Baum’s Toto is an endearing Tibetan terrier who seemed a little nervous but brought an ‘ahh’ factor to the show.

The Munchkins are unnervingly jolly and the citizens of Oz must surely actually live in Shallow World, so vacuous and hedonistic are their lives. It is a quite a relief when the Wicked Witch of the West appears. Tracey Gonzato is deliciously wicked as The Wicked Witch, just as Laura Newborough is splendidly good as Glinda, The Good Witch of the North, more panto fairy godmother than witch, glittering in her costume.

The costumes are beautifully detailed and the make-up cleverly and carefully applied in keeping with the overall high production values. I saw this on the night of the technical rehearsal when the company was still ironing out a few set and sound issues, and it struck me that some of the staging was rather ambitious but this is a company that aims high and, I think, gets better and better.

Stella Wiseman