Hot pantos

13th December 1996 at 00:00
WIZARD OF OZ. Dundee Rep until January 11. Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, until January 18

The Wizard of Oz is just 96-years-old, but has kept its looks and its legs. It keeps its attraction too: for the children, with its weird characters, live animals and hostile adults; for the adults, who have to stump up for the tickets, with a Dorothy Parker-like acerbity to undertow Dorothy's good-hearted, unending, all-American pluck.

At Dundee Rep, Gail Watson gives Dorothy a brave innocence. Strong both on the pluck and the pathos, she gives the production a big heart - with help from all the cast, especially the nimble and tuneful Carl Patrick as Scarecrow, and Victor Greene as a Professor Marvel with more than a hint of W C Fields (for whom the film part was surely written).

Fields refused the part, knowing that he would have been eclipsed by the dog. It happened in Dundee too - even though it was a stand-in and still trying to work out the plot. Kiss a girl and you get wolf cub whistles and ooohs. Bring on a dog, and they aaah with real sincerity.

As they did at the Glasgow Citizens, where the production team, led by Giles Havergal, again makes the theatre a colourful and cosy box of delights for the Royal Shakespeare Company's version of Wizard.

The detail of the partnership between Kenny Miller's design and Gerry Jenkinson's lighting gives another dimension. The farm is monochrome, the Land of Oz is technicolour, and in costuming the Munchkins, you feel that Kenny Miller has gone about as far as you can go.

Here, Rachel Pitman was the defender of the dog, showing us in her Dorothy another Aunt Em in the making - buxom, strong and high-minded. Here, again, another strong cast triumphantly competes with the dog, and with all of L Frank Baum's lyrics and esoteric rhymes that MGM thought too difficult for their audience.

And those Wilde-like disparagements of our heroine, enquired after by Carol Brannan's Wicked Witch of the West as "that mellifluous little baggage", and dispatched with the disdainful "nothing is so depressing as boundless optimism". This is the true sweet and sour of pantomime; it's a dog's life really.

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