The Wizard Of Oz @ Chichester Festival Theatre

The mince pies have been opened, there are presents under the tree and the only thing missing from our perfect Christmas was our annual visit to see Chichester Festival Theatre’s Christmas production. Last night we braved the rain to get our festive fix and, as always, it was a highlight of our theatrical year!

This year Chichester Festival Youth Theatre are taking us over the rainbow to just about the liveliest land of Oz you are ever likely to see. As always there is shared casting and on the night we visited our guide along the yellow brick road was Ella O’Keeffe who gives Dorothy a wide-eyed excitement and energy that sets off the entire show. She interacts brilliantly with the rest of the cast and gives a real sense of Dorothy’s wonder and surprise when she lands with a bump in Oz!

She’s joined by a host of familiar faces in this odd new land, including three new friends who look an awful lot like hired hands on her uncle’s farm…. Joe Clines and Richard Chapman are great fun as the Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion but Alfie Scott is clearly having the most fun as Scarecrow, his grin is infectious as he flops about the stage.

They’re all banding together to protect Dorothy from Florence Clarke’s exasperated Witch of the West, with an occasional helping hand from Evie Carter’s good witch, a horde of supportive munchkins and an energetic and helpful City Guard (Thomas Lunn, who also adds some heart as Uncle Henry). Of course they can’t get back to Kansas without help from the all powerful Oz. Luc Oratis is great value as the flim-flam man who has wrapped the land around his little finger.

Of course Dorothy’s most faithful companion is along for the ride too. The decision to make Toto a puppet works perfectly, with Ellie Dickens giving the little hound real character.

Lucy Betts’ direction is lively and energetic, the set and costume designs (Simon Higlett and Ryan Dawson Laight respectively) are gorgeous as ever and the musicians, under the charge of Colin Billing are in fine form.

The whole show whips along at pace, but there are still moments to pause and soak up the gorgeous set and costumes, we even get a couple of up-tempo dance numbers, notably the toe-tapping Jitterbug.

You may not be in Kansas anymore, but if you get yourself along to the Festival Theatre you’ll leave with a smile as wide as the rainbow!

At Chichester until 29 December. Visit cft.org.uk for more information or to buy tickets.

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