Remember, pantomime is for anytime... not just for Christmas! Treating us to an Easter production, written by Liam Mellor for Trio Entertainment Limited, The Wizard of Oz is a firm family favourite as confirmed by a packed auditorium this evening.

The Wizard of Oz tells the tale of Dorothy (Bessie McMillan) a young Kansas farm girl and her dog Toto who are whisked off to the magical Land of Oz during a storm and her quest to find the Wizard who has the power to return her home. Along her journey she meets up with a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion all wanting to meet the Wizard in the hope he can help them too.

Twenty one years after he left Coronation Street where he played the part of Andy, one of the McDonald twins, (although he has made brief reappearances on several occasions) Nick Cochrane is instantly recognisable and his popularity is apparent as he brilliantly multi-tasks, taking on the roles of Faramont, gatekeeper of Oz, Professor Marvel, and the Wizard of Oz. Another former soap star is Gemma Oaten, well known for her four year role as Rachel Brockle in Emmerdale, who performs as the lovely Glinda the Good Fairy and as Aunt Em. If there is a good fairy there has to be a wicked counterpart and Lucy Rollason portrays two horrible characters as Miss Grumpy and the Evil Witch of the West. McMillan is both sweet and charming as Dorothy.

With double roles Steven Hall is Doc and the cowardly lion, Stuart Earp is Hickory and the scarecrow who is in search of a brain with Gary Amos performing as Dickory and the tin man. Hall appeared in 2011 on Britain's Got Talent and since then has gone onto perform in numerous panto's and shows across the UK and Germany with his entertaining and absolutely perfectly timed dance moves and tonight it was a delight during the 'Harvest Hoe Down' and later in the show, to witness his skills. He makes a wonderful cowardly Lion in search of some courage who you just want to cuddle! Earp is the master of one liners, guaranteeing to have you laughing at his every appearance and there are many hilarious moments with his co-stars as props go astray, or he 'loses the plot' whether intentional or not, the others struggle to keep straight faces, this is pantomime after all and the more mishaps the better with the audience just lapping it up. Another audience favourite is Amos's creaky tin man and his search for a heart. To be booed on stage must be an actor's nightmare but I am sure Rollason simply relishes it as she is hit with deafening hisses and boos each time she appeared, what more proof do you need to how well she plays her evil character! The audience are very vocal tonight and need little encouragement to shout out at every opportunity old panto clichés of 'Behind You' and Oh No it's Not' etc. There are numerous bright and colourful costumes and the ensemble from the North Liverpool Dance Academy and Munchkins from Anita Tymcyshyn School of Dance give fabulous choreographed performances showing them off.

The panto whizzes through the story and some scenes I felt were rushed and although lighting is brilliant (pun intended) more effect such as the storm (blink and you missed it) would be good. An appearance of Toto would have been appreciated, a stuffed toy for the finale is his only presence. Surely someone can loan a little dog for a few moments?

For an evening of song filled fun and frolics (and obligatory soaking from water pistols) use your BRAIN, find the COURAGE and head to the Brindley for a pantomime that will capture your HEART.

Be quick, ending with a matinee performance Wednesday 11th April, for tickets:

The Wizard continues to Albert Halls, Bolton opening on the 12th April.


Reviewer: Lorna Weekes

Reviewed: 9th April 2018

North West End Rating: ★★★★

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