There was a woman in the front row of the performance I saw of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ that spent the entire show with her jumper over her head and it felt completely in keeping with what’s been happening at Belvoir over the last few years. Can you imagine the poor punter who thought they were coming to see ‘The Wizard of Oz’ who walks into a Belvoir production and instead sees an asylum-like set, semi-nude cast, water-bombing witches and a glass-boxed version of Dorothy being finger-raped by the Tin Man? I think the woman in the front row may have felt the same thing was happening to her. If you’ve been to Belvoir under the reign of Ralphie or have witnessed the works of director Adena Jacobs, of course you can.
It’s got more substance than her production of ‘Hedda Gabler’ because at least this wasn’t reliant on badly crafted dialogue or tried to follow a narrative and then butcher it by removing any messages from the play. It had less cock than her production of ‘Oedipus’- just a wealth of exposed breasts. Dare I say it, there’s something intriguing about her ‘The Wizard of Oz’ which meant I didn’t hate it at all. Didn’t love it, just to be clear, but it allowed me to mull over what the dramatic meaning of Jacobs’ production might be. I don’t think I have any answers but it was engaging to watch at times and I got flickerings of feminism, of the outcast, of the lost and lonely, of self-loathing, pent up anger and a comfortable jumper that you can escape in when the production becomes too much.
Like a one trick pony, Jacobs can be relied upon to start the play with elongated silence and continue with disjointed dialogue, nudity and simulated sex. But like ‘Persona’, there’s something there in this expressionistic concoction that will have you intrigued by parts, laughing (perhaps inappropriately) in parts or perhaps walking out early or grabbing for the nearest sweater to seek solace until the whole thing is done.
It’s actually not the show itself that annoys me. It’s Belvoir’s attitude that if you didn’t like it or other shows of this ilk that somehow you, as audience, are the ignorant ones; that your opinion is as worthless and boring as a playwright’s work, which is why reinventing classics has been a favourite at Belvoir for so long. Ditch the words, swing the message, insert an animal into the mix, play with transgender, throw in a game, a smattering of violence, body parts, a glass box or scrim and leave the doors ajar so the audience can sneak out mid-show.
I’m not going to dwell anymore on this review. This play is meant to be divisive. You’re probably going to hate it or find it stimulating so it surprised me that I wasn’t more polarised and sat firmly on the yellow brick road of whatever. However, I’m bored by the predictability when it doesn’t have a consistency of ideas to back it up. When the experimental feels mainstream, I think I need to rest from theatre for a while and take up French lessons.
Ho hum. Ho hum. I’m sick of beating this drum…