REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz, Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre, until Saturday, December 3

The principal actors in Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of The Wizard of Oz.
The principal actors in Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of The Wizard of Oz.

A theatre full of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and a journalist (me) was bristling with pride this evening as the latest crop of budding stars hit the stage.

Alnwick Playhouse has seen some fine performances over the years and the latest offering from its Youth Theatre claimed its rightful place among them.

The hard-working youngsters, aged eight to 18, took on The Wizard of Oz, a complex show with some challenging songs and copious amounts of tongue-twisting dialogue, and they emerged with considerable credit.

There was a range of experience on display, from first-timers to old stage hands, but they all had one aim in mind - to entertain.

And the moment Ellie Hamblett delivered her first line, I felt the urge to pick up the phone to Andrew Lloyd Webber to tell him we'd found the new Dorothy, the girls who just wants to get back home to Kansas after a twister blew her to the Land of Oz. Her Midwestern accent was immaculate to the end, she sounded just like Judy Garland in that classic 1939 film and her singing voice was beautiful. She slipped effortlessly into the famous red shoes and gave the character emotion, expression and energy.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow is one of the most iconic tunes and difficult to master but Ellie did so with aplomb. She was the focal point of the entire production, being almost ever-present throughout.

Joining her on the yellow brick road for a date with the wise wizard were three excellent companions. Roan Stripp was a magnificent Cowardly Lion on the hunt for a dose of courage - he did his best to frighten but was deliciously timid in the face of real danger. His rendition of If I Were King of the Forest stole the show and produced the biggest cheer from an enthusiastic audience. And that from a 12-year-old - remarkable! Roan Stripp, remember that name - you heard it here first!

Roan's feline transformation and comic timing left us chuckling into the evening.

He was ably supported by Isaac Ellis's scatty Scarecrow, who was hoping to gain a brain, and Alex Clark-Thompson's Tin Man, who needed a new ticker. They both added heavy elements to the chemistry between the principal characters. Vocally, they nailed it.

Another convincing performance was given by Palesa Thompson, whose evil cackle prompted affectionate boos, as she became the Wicked Witch of the West, complete with green face (top marks to the make-up department). Her frightful, booming voice echoed around the theatre in true baddie style. A mature portrayal that instilled genuine fear.

Gregory Brewis gave the Wizard of Oz an eloquent authority; Daisy Sawyer was a calming influence as the Good Witch of the North; and James Anstee made a good fist of the Emerald City guard. Oh, and Charlotte Townsend was very well behaved as Toto the dog!

The young chorus enthusiastically sang and danced its way through some celebrated numbers as the Wizard's Munchkins and the Witch's Winkies.

I'm amazed how the young people in this small community continue to deliver the goods on stage - long may it last.

There are two performances left, tomorrow (Saturday, December 3) at 2pm and 7pm - buy tickets online or call 01665 510 785.

CAST
Dorothy Gale - Ellie Hamblett
Aunt Em/Glinda the Good Witch of the North - Daisy Sawyer
Uncle Henry/Emerald City Guard - James Anstee
Hunk/Scarecrow - Isaac Ellis
Hickory/Tin Man - Alex Clark-Thompson
Zeke/ Cowardly Lion - Roan Stripp
Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West - Palesa Thompson
Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz - Gregory Brewis
Toto - Charlotte Townsend

CHORUS
Aidan Stuart, Amy Sparrow, Ben Mansfield, Bethany Kirkley, Betty Fentiman, Charlotte Walton, Daisy Lucas, David Mitchell, Elana Purkins, Eleanor Morris, Ellie Jones, Emilia Grimes, Ethan Wood, Grace Rushton, Hannah van Loon, Holly Hunter, Keeley Fielding, Lauren Robinson, Luis Browell, Martha Williams, Matthew Hardy, Megan Bell, Sophie Bell.

Director - Jess Chapman; Producer - Sarah McLane; Musical director - Peter Brown; Assistant musical director - Carrie Morrison; Choreographer - Joanne Burn; Stage manager - Charley Walker; Technical - Tim Swinton, Andrew Mounsey and Chris Anstee; Costumes/props - Carrie Morrison, Charley Walker and Sarah McLane; Backstage - Sophie Murray, Sally Larkin, Jess Rix, Georgia Brown and Lily Juggins.