The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Tron Theatre

Written and Directed by Johnny McKnight

Musical Direction and Composition by Ross Brown

Rating: 5 out of 5.

There’s nae place like home.

And sometimes it takes a trip away to realise that all those gripes, misplaced dreams and annoyances forge who we are, where we’re going, and open us to loved ones surrounding us. But enough of that mushy stuff – we’re here for a belter of a time, and the long-awaited return of the Tron Theatre pantomime may be the best festive experience in Scotland this year.

One of the terrific aspects of writer, director, and star Johnny McKnight’s script is how it translates the shmaltzy, though serene nature of the original film without resorting to cheap knocks and digs. The story of Dorothy’s journey to the Wizard remains quite unchanged – with just a few pitstops along the way to meet some friends, fend off some adversaries, and maybe take in a gin or three.

But that’s not to say McKnight’s writing pulls punches. Quite the opposite. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz continues Tron’s outgoing prestige, a place of innovation and a space to spread wings away from influence. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is taking the slippers off and dusting off the gloves as McKnight and the cast take on politics, Scottish culture, and the shortcomings of the industry at present.

McKnight’s manner with the crowd cannot even be classed as ‘crowd control’. It’s entirely authentic – no manipulation, no cheap gimmick: the audience wants to engage with the show, and if that isn’t the sign of a stellar panto then what the hell is? But while McKnight’s heart, brain, and courage are embedded in the show – this is a pure team effort. This show wouldn’t be nearly as successful without a hapless scarecrow, a tin wummin, and a chickenhearted lion from Balamory the forest.

Perhaps the quintessential brilliance in this production is that each of the characters missing something demonstrates how it’s been with them all along. Whether it’s Tyler Collins’ spectacular recitation of the plot or their marvellously enviable dance moves (and flexibility) as the ragdoll Scarecrow to showcase their keen mind. Or Julie Wilson Nimmo’s resolve to courageously fly between costume changes as both Glinda (Glenda?) and the Lion with a charm which captures the audience instantaneously; or even the absolute showstopper which is the care and devotion Lauren Ellis Steele puts into the Tin Wummin as they belt out superb vocals and comedic timing.

And for McKnight, well, they’re back in the Tron – they’ve been at home for the last two hours.

Exuding campness, take a gander at Kenny Miller’s fandabidozi set and costume brought to life under Grant Anderson’s lighting. This show drips with Queer magnificence: neon rainbows, yellow brick linoleum, and one hell of a Witches lair (pie, and pint not included). It’s a perfect playground for the cast, decked out in their costumes, Nimmo and Steele walking away as the belle of the balls with their creative get-ups glistening with the finest rhinestone karats and faux fur.

But being wicked never looked so good; it seems splotches of green are Katie Barnett’s colour. Dastardly, cruel, malicious, fabulous, and honestly, easy to root for as the villainous Wicked Witch of the West(end) with a terrific set of pipes. It’s simple to gain a set of boos and hisses from an audience but retaining affection and attention is a talent – especially when you’re threatening Tronto the dug. And though it might be difficult to get past the robes, the hat, and the leather-clad monkeys (Shannon McLean and Cole Stewart), Barnett’s building vocal scale offers a distinctly unique range of varying syllable-modulating build on each line delivery.

Melding together some familiar hits with original lyrics, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz boasts a canny score to guide us to Oz and back under Ross Brown’s composition and musical direction. Not only an endless barrel of laughs, but this show also has a steady stream of well-structured music numbers to disguise set and costume changes, maintain momentum, and offer the crowd a good time. Joining the original lyricism throughout is a wave of creativity under Eva Forrester’s choreography – which avoids the pitfalls of reliance on viral and popular moves, channelling a sense of energetic momentum throughout the show.

So, let’s get a few things sorted:  Brains? Check.  Heart? Check. Courage? Double-check.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz possesses the building blocks of the perfect pantomime experience by ensuring the foundations of the perfect show are its blueprints. A talented and dedicated cast work to excel with McKnight’s witty and camp script, pouring buckets of rainbow-studded cheer all over the place, and making a firm statement that if you want to know how to do a proper panto? Get yerself to Tron.

There’s Nae Place Like Home

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz runs at The Tron Theatre until January 8th, 2023.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

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