Changing the name of the title was the least of the differences between Glasgow’s Pavilion panto production and the Kansas set film of 1939. Here we have a Dorothy in a red dress who doesn’t come from the windy city, instead the district of Govan! All is turned on its ruby slippers with the cast talking in broad Glaswegian and Munchkinland bursting with a colourful adventure.
I can’t remember the last pantomime I was at. I feel as though it must have been in Edinburgh about six years ago when I went to see Cinderella. This is quite a shame for me because I really do love entertaining cheese fests which allow you to escape to somewhere else. Maybe that is why I found The Wizard of Never Woz to be an entirely different theatre experience.
From the opening the cast were speaking in broad Glaswegian; making references to things which only the Scots would be able to understand. Thus, the panto generally had its focus towards those of Scottish decent which made it feel more of a community, separating herself from the likes of The Theatre Royal in Glasgow, which takes itself more seriously.
The first and most famous number from the film came quickly: Somewhere over the Rainbow, a special song for any dreamer of The Wizard of Oz and for those who enjoyed Over the Rainbow. The panto blasted out a wide array of tunes from 2012, trending it up for a teenager audience. For example, American Pop Idol winner, Carrie Underwood’s new song Blow Away, which I had embarrassingly never heard before, fit in perfectly as the tornado came to transport Gavon to Never Oz. What followed was a sequence of pop songs from the likes of Fun’s Some Nights to a munchkinised take on PSY’s Gangnam Style. If it wasn’t singing, then it was dancing. A whole bunch of professional youngsters would dance in random acts of fashion creating a spectacle where you couldn’t take your eyes away from the stage. There was even a light dancing experience when the stage was cast into the darkness and a light display was formed with neon poles. Although, I thought this could have been more innovative and enhanced with a few more dancers as only two seemed to rotate the batons around in repetitive circles.
Special effects also had a huge contribution to the shock factor, which I have never experienced to such an extent in panto before. Yes, you are used to the puff of smoke as Good Witch Glinda appears in all her good glory on the stage, but Never Oz sure brought technology into 2013. The opening wasn’t a musical number, or even an acting sequence, instead it was a story projected onto the stage. This aimed to start triggering the children’s excitement when a tumbling wave of gasps and awe whistled throughout the stalls as the audience were hit by fake snow falling from the ceiling, mimicking the winter wonderland displayed on the screen. It was a magical moment to witness and already you could tell The Wizard of Never Woz was going to offer something special. During the second half one of my favourite magic tricks of all time, which I still have no idea how they do it, took place when the Scarecrow was shrunk down to about one foot.
The producers had admirably been able to hunt down a mixed bunch of well-known Scottish icons to take the leading roles, which would have impressed every generation. No less than Michelle McManus, who played Glinda in her panto debut. Although, I don’t know if this was how her character was meant to be acted, but she seemed extremely patronising compared to the other characters in the show. I suspect this is only to give the motherly figure to the younger audience, and she received the biggest uproar of applause when she sang her winning Pop Idol single, All This Time.
The best of atmosphere was created when the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion were having their own adventures down the Yellow Brick Road. For me, Strawsuit Bob was the most well-known face: Stephen Purdon, aka ShellSuit Bob from River City. He had already been involved in six panto productions by the Pavilion in the past and the script would continuously make jibes about his famous TV character. Comedian Jonny Mac, who I must admit I’d never heard of before, possibly stole the show as the heartless Tinny; with such moments as being made from ‘Titanium’ and being unable to complete a sentence without finishing with “I’m enjoying myself!” being able to light up the theatre. The King of Panto, Dean Park, took on the role of Leo and with his gruff voice and his array of cute jokes he showed of the friendly side of the beast. Of course, you can’t talk about the cast without mentioning the lady herself! Our heroine was played by 102.5 Clyde 1’s Shebahn Littlejohn in her acting debut and the ruby slippers must have done their trick as she didn’t seem nervous at all, although she didn’t gain much stage time so there was little chance for her Dorothy to develop. I must confess that I thought that the Wicked Witch of the West was being played by a man, but it turned out to be a woman! Not any old lady though; Joyce Falconer from River City! She and McManus played the perfect duo of the bad and the good with their costumes creating dynamic contrasts on the stage.
A friend of a friend had criticised the panto because they explained that the cast had made many mistakes. When I watched it these same mistakes reoccurred and it’s clear that if you didn’t understand what was going on you would have found it a bit odd. However, I found these errors the funniest moments throughout the show. I don’t want to give too much away encase you are yet to see the show and your mind might react differently if you weren’t given the information in advance. All I can say is that when these ‘mistakes’ took place the characters seemed to transform into their real life form which would break the fourth wall as both audiences and actors would be connected by these faults of human error. My favourite joke of the whole show, and I don’t know if this occurs in ever performance or if it was just original to mine, was when Leo says to one of the female audience members to stop talking because he was trying to recite his lines. Leo then told us that she was explaining to her friend who Strawssuit Bob was. I found this hilarious!
Along with the panto there was a programme on BBC One Scotland, Pavilion of Dreams, which I watched after the show to learn more about how they came to producing The Wizard of Never Woz. The programme became less about the creation of the show and more about the creators themselves, of the one man and his team which made the show happen. It became quite upsetting to learn of the general manager, Iain Gordon’s determination to take care of the Pavilion like a living creature and his worries for the future of Glasgow’s last Variety Theatre once he has retired. I always thought that the pantomime was developed by an individual production company who would make the performance and then they would join with the theatre company to bring it to the stage. On the other hand, this program explained that it is those who run the theatre that acquire all the cast, write the script and design all the stage. I now realise how much the Pavilion theatre is family based orientated whose first priority is to give entertainment to an audience, rather than for commercial prosperity.
I’m being blatantly biased here as I’ve not seen any of the other pantomimes in Glasgow this year, but if you’re up for a good laugh out loud experience which will be enjoyed by all the family then this is the stunning show for you. As Tinny would say, “You’ll enjoy yourself!”
- Michelle McManus: Performing in Panto is a scream (dailyrecord.co.uk)
- TV star John Barrowman injured in fall from horse during panto show in Glasgow (dailyrecord.co.uk)
- We’re off to see the wonderful Wizard of Oz (timesofmalta.com)
- Christmas Panto (thefashioncarousel.com)
- BWW TV: First Look at Toronto’s North American Premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE WIZARD OF OZ (broadwayworld.com)
- The Wizard of Oz: How one weird book spawned a whole pop culture (theglobeandmail.com)