Time for pantomime with The Wizard of Oz

Arianne Westcott-King is Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at the Old Mill Theatre. Picture: Sarah Christiner

Arianne Westcott-King is Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at the Old Mill Theatre. Picture: Sarah Christiner

AN enchanting family pantomime version of The Wizard of Oz lands at the Old Mill Theatre in late November and December.

In this version from Limelight Scripts UK, Dorothy and Toto are joined by Aunt Em as they travel to Emerald City to gain the wizard’s help to return to Kansas. On the way, they are joined by Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man – and Elvis Presley, who has been touring Oz and can’t find his way home.

Director Maree Grayden was inspired to direct The Wizard of Oz after a similar pantomime version of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs was such a success at the Old Mill Theatre last year.

“It brought so many families into the theatre and it seemed imperative we repeat the opportunity,” she said. “For some, it was their first visit to this theatre but it certainly wasn’t their last.”

Tim Prosser drew the short straw to play Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Picture: Sarah Christiner

Tim Prosser drew the short straw to play Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Picture: Sarah Christiner

Auditioning locally and across the broader Perth community, Grayden has recruited some seasoned and talented professional performers while ensuring the show also has young cast members new to theatre.

“I have doubled the recommended number of munchkin and monkey roles to give as many opportunities as possible for young people to tread the boards,” she said.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate in the breadth of theatre knowledge and talent within the adult cast – they have the skills and experience to really own their characters and have an absolute ball with the audience.

“They will bring to life all the much-loved interaction and conventions that define the pantomime form of theatre.

“I’ve also managed several coups with my production team, scoring Kylie Maree Bywaters as assistant director for the younger chorus members, Bree Vreedenburgh as musical director and Mel Davies, choreographer of Bounce Funk Dance Company.”

With a 25-year background as a performer and drama teacher, Grayden created the Centre Stage South West Academy of Dramatic Arts in Bunbury and has also appeared on stage with the Old Mill, Melville, Groovy Boots and KADS Theatres and Graduate Dramatic Society.

Sarah Christiner is testing her acting mettle as Tin Man in a pantomime version of The Wizard of Oz. Picture: Arianne Westcott-King

Sarah Christiner is testing her acting mettle as Tin Man in a pantomime version of The Wizard of Oz. Picture: Arianne Westcott-King

She was recognised for her performance skills at the 2011 South West Drama Festival and Dramafest, the annual state drama festival, the same year.

Grayden is also an experienced director, previously responsibly for numerous professional and corporate productions.

“I’ve had a break from directing shows like The Wizard of Oz but am now remembering how much fun it can be to have an agenda which is simply to entertain and engage an audience,” she said.

“I’m also relishing the opportunity of doing a show where I’m working with my own children and not having to leave them behind while I spend relentless hours rehearsing at the theatre.”

The main challenge with her latest show, Grayden says, is balancing the well-loved aspects of The Wizard of Oz with original and unique concepts in the pantomine’s characterisation and stage design.

Neil Cartmell has branched out for the role of Cowardly Lion. Picture: Sarah Christiner

Neil Cartmell has branched out for the role of Cowardly Lion. Picture: Sarah Christiner

“We want the story to be recognisable yet have some wow factors for a younger audience that will inspire them to see more theatre,” she said.

The Wizard of Oz plays at 7.30pm, November 28, 29, December 4, 5, 6, 10, 11 and 12 with 2pm matinees November 30, December 7 and 13. Tickets are $30, $25 concession, $20 children (aged up to 10) and $90 for a family (2 adults + 2 children) – book online HERE or on 9367 8719.

The heritage-listed Old Mill Theatre is on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road, South Perth (opposite the Windsor Hotel and Australia Post).