If ever a Wiz there was...

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review: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, until January 14th.

Box office: 01204 520661. Website: www.octagonbolton.co.uk

Apparently the Judy Garland film of The Wizard of Oz is the most watched film in history.

Every child capable of watching a DVD from about four upwards has seen it. But the Octagon’s production of the original L. Frank Baum book, first published in 1900, has re-interpreted the story in a wholly new and fascinating way.

A team of skilful adaptors and writers have resited the story from Kansas to Bolton and updated it in an entertaining way with new music (Barbara Hockaday) and many contemporary references. The wonderful Baum fantasy is refreshed and appeals to today’s children.

The familiar, loved characters are there, Dorothy (a super performance from Ellie Paskell) still travels to Oz and meets the Scarecrow (Paul-Ryan Carberry), the Tin Man (Lee Drage) and The Cowardly Lion (Lloyd Gorman) and together they explore the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City to find the Wizard of Oz (Thomas Eyre) in the hope that he can help them all find what they want.

The cast of seven incredibly versatile actors take on different roles and play a variety of musical instruments. Octagon regulars (and favourites of mine) Clara Darcy and Ruth Alexander Rubin) play witches and several other parts. I took three “consultants” with me, aged from 10 up to 15 (with some experience of acting). In their opinion, it was a bit surprising at first, but then thoroughly engrossing.

They liked the clever design and the lighting and were impressed by the young team of Munchkins. I enjoyed it and I have to confess that I did rather fall for the Hippie Lion. From where I was sitting I could see a little four-year-old girl on the front row, who was totally enthralled. I discovered it was her first visit to the theatre.

Perhaps it will be a memory that will last her throughout her life. If you do nothing else this Christmas, try to take your X-box, DVD-playing, computer-fixated children to live theatre!