Ian 'Spud' Smith

Meet the friends of Dorothy - The Wizard of Oz

Dorothy, Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man in costume
Dorothy, Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man in costume

In The Wizard of Oz, they’re the trio of faithful friends who help Dorothy reach the Emerald City and defeat the Wicked Witch of the West. Anyone who’s seen the film will remember the Scarecrow who sings “If I Only Had A Brain”, the Tin Man who yearns for a heart, and the Cowardly Lion who just longs to be brave. Bringing these much-loved characters to life on the Haymarket stage are Craig Saunders, Bryn Hughes and Ian ‘Spud’ Smith, all long-term members of Basingstoke Amateur Theatrical Society.

Dorothy (Alyssia Kershaw) with Lion (Ian 'Spud' Smith), Scarecrow (Craig Saunders) and Tin Man (Bryn Hughes)

“It’s great being able to act stupid and get away with it!” laughs Craig, who spends much of the time as the Scarecrow falling over. Luckily his costume is well padded. But Scarecrow faces other perils in the show. “At one point my legs and arms get pulled off by flying monkeys!” Fortunately Bryn and Spud know how to put him back together. “It’s been great getting that camaraderie with the other guys.”

As Tin Man, Bryn is encased in an impressive metal costume that was built for BATS’ 1985 production of The Wizard of Oz. Bryn has helped to completely renovate it, alongside stage manager Steve Brannam. “I’ve been rehearsing in the costume to get the movement right. You feel quite restricted. It’s not that heavy but it’s quite difficult to walk and tap dance in.”

When the show opens, Bryn must also contend with silver make-up, a skin tight catsuit and a big funnel on his head. “It’s going to be very hot! I’ll make sure there’s plenty of water at the side of the stage!”

Spud is also expecting to sweat buckets in his furry lion costume and mane. He has vivid memories of appearing in BATS’ 1998 production of The Wizard of Oz. “I broke my elbow on stage! I was playing a Munchkin, jumped off a wall and lost my footing.”

This time round will be a happier occasion – he’ll mark his 200th performance at the Haymarket during the run. His four-year-old son Reuben will also be in the audience. Spud says he’s a tough critic. “If I’m practising my lines he picks up on any mistakes. He knows the script better than I do!”

Craig, Bryn and Spud all praise the dedication of the cast and crew bringing The Wizard of Oz to the stage. “There’s a joyous atmosphere in rehearsals,” says Spud. “It’s a wonderful family show, and everyone wants to make it as good as it can be.”

Ten performances of The Wizard of Oz run from Thursday 20 - Saturday 29 November. Performances start at 7.15pm with 2.15pm matinees on Saturday 22, Sunday 23 and Saturday 29.

Alyssia prepares to follow the yellow brick road - The Wizard of Oz

Any young actress who plays Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz has some very big shoes to fill - or should that be ruby slippers? It’s a part that defined Judy Garland forever.

But 16-year-old Alyssia Kershaw is up for the challenge. “I absolutely loved the film when I was young. Judy Garland was amazing. You really believe in Dorothy’s personal journey.”

Alyssia Kershaw in rehearsal for the Wizard of Oz
Alyssia Kershaw in rehearsal for the Wizard of Oz

“She starts the show yearning for a different way of life in the song Over The Rainbow. She’s then transported to this magical world but learns in the end that there’s no place like home. It really is my dream part, and I’m working hard to make it believable. It should be Dorothy on stage, not Alyssia.”

One big challenge is working with two scene-stealing dogs – Scruffy and Tia - who alternate the role of Toto. “I’m having bonding sessions with them outside rehearsals,” Alyssia explains. “I’ll have doggie treats hidden in my belt to keep them close to me on stage, but I might have to deal with some unpredictable behaviour – while staying in character!”

Anyone who saw Alyssia give a sneak preview of Over the Rainbow at the recent Mayor’s Variety Show at the Anvil will have been impressed by her lovely singing voice, and the warmth and sincerity of her performance. But even at 16 she is a stage veteran.

The Wizard of Oz is Alyssia’s fourth show with Basingstoke Amateur Theatrical Society, following parts in Annie, Carousel and The Music Man. She’s also currently rehearsing BAOS Limelight’s production of Grease in October, and Winchester Theatre Royal’s Christmas panto Sleeping Beauty. On Saturdays she attends JG Dance Theatre School, in Henley. All this alongside A-Levels at QMC.

“I’m very grateful to my mum and dad for their support,” says Alyssia. “I couldn’t do this without them. They are my taxi service and they support me every step of the way!”

In fact Alyssia’s dad Nick will get to enjoy her performance as Dorothy every night – from the orchestra pit. He plays the trombone for BATS. So does each give the other notes on their performance? “No!” laughs Alyssia, “We keep our areas very separate!”

Ten performances of The Wizard of Oz run from Thursday 20 - Saturday 29 November. Performances start at 7.15pm with 2.15pm matinees on Saturday 22, Sunday 23 and Saturday 29.

In rehearsal with 'The Baddies' for Little Shop of Horrors

BATS returns to the Haymarket later this month with one of Broadway’s favourite musicals, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. The show features great 1960’s style songs and a story that pastiches old-style horror movies. Downtrodden shop assistant, Seymour Krelborn finds a strange exotic plant during a solar eclipse. When the plant begins to speak and demands to be fed, Seymour enters into a terrible pact which he believes will win him true love. But not one, but three baddies stand in his way, pictured from left to right - Joe Humberstone, Ian 'Spud' Smith and Anthony Mitchell.

Joe Humberstone, Ian 'Spud' Smith and Anthony Mitchell in rehearsal
Joe Humberstone, Ian 'Spud' Smith and Anthony Mitchell in rehearsal

Anthony Mitchell plays Seymour’s boss, the bitter flower shop owner Mr Mushnik. “He took Seymour under his wing and gave him a home, but he never made anything of his own life,” explains Anthony. “Then he gets a chance to make a load of easy money by praying upon Seymour’s naivety. Of course, that ultimately becomes the route to his own come-uppance.”

2013 marks Anthony’s 30th year with BATS. “I’m so pleased to be doing Little Shop of Horrors” he says. “You’ll leave the theatre with a broad grin on your face, humming the catchy numbers – and wondering just what that huge weed in your garden really is!”

Ian ‘Spud’ Smith is another BATS stalwart – he’s providing the voice for the monstrous man-eating plant, Audrey 2, and has an apology for his neighbours. “My songs are very loud – when I rehearse at home I wonder what they think as they hear me chant “Feed Me Blood” at the top of my voice!”

Spud’s striking looks have often seen him cast in ‘baddie’ roles, like Bill Sikes in ‘Oliver!’ and Jud Fry in ‘Oklahoma!’ but he’s keen to stress he’s not always been a rotter – “I once played Wendy in Peter Pan!”

Spud confesses he’s been bowled over by the enthusiasm and dedication of the younger members of the cast. Among them, Joe Humberstone, who plays the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello.

“He’s sarcastic and disturbing to watch,” says Joe of his character, who’s pretty nasty to his girlfriend Audrey and downright evil to hapless hero Seymour. But can any of these villains match up to the legendary Queen of Mean, who Joe faced on TV’s The Weakest Link? He admits he wilted under Anne Robinson’s fearsome glare. “I went out in the first round after getting a question wrong – doh!”

Six performances of Little Shop of Horrors run from Tues 14th – Sat 18th May at The Haymarket, Basingstoke.

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