Sunday, January 8, 2023



The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.Adapted by John Kane for Royal Shakespeare Company. Music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y Harburg. Background Music by Herbert Stothart. Added vocal arrangements by Peter Howard. Orchestration by Larry Wilcox. Director Justin Watson. Musical director Jenna Hinton. Choreographer Jodi Hammond. Costume designer Janette Humphries. Set designer Ian Croker. Lighting designer Justin Watson. Lighting operator Charles Noble. Sound operator Emma Rynehart. Ickle Pickle Productions. Belconnen Theatre January 6 – 21. Belconnen Theatre. Bookings :

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

 Ickle Pickle Productions has emerged from its two year pandemic Hiatus with a fresh and delightful staging of that all-time favourite The Wizard of Oz. What makes this production so enchanting is its charm. From the moment Toto enters an audible gasp of adoration sweeps through the audience at the sight of a truly cute terrier, who plays his part impeccably. The audience is instantly captivated and there is not a moment in Ickle Pickle’s production that does not keep the audience rapt.

Sam Dietz as Tin Man, Kellee-Rose Hand as Dorothy

Meaghan Stewart as Lion, Jack Morton as Scarecrow

Charm exudes from every performance, every moment of Dorothy’s journey to escape the Wicked Witch of the West (Debra Byrne ) and find her way back to Kansas after being whisked to the wonderful land of Oz by a tornado. Accompanied by Scarecrow (Jack Morton ), who wants the wizard to give him a brain, Tin Man (Sam Dietz ) who has never had a heart and Lion ( Meaghan Stewart) who is in desperate need of courage, Dorothy (Kellee-Rose Hand ) and Toto with the help of the kind and good Witch Glinda set out on the Yellow Brick Road to seek out the great and powerful Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City.

What is so very charming is that Ickle Pickle’s  simple but magical production of L Frank Baum’s  book with Harold Arlen and E.Y Harburg’s music and lyrics evokes  a bygone era of homespun philosophies and honest virtues of friendship, cooperation, courage in the face of adversity and a love of home and community. In the digital age of amazing technology, awe-inspiring special effects and the use of amplification aids for actors and singers theatre may become the powerhouse of hype. Ickle Pickle under the clear and effective direction of Justin Watson proves that it is the honest art of storytelling that is at the core of this timeless children’s classic.. The actors often use direct address to present  L Frank Baum’s  story of the quest to a wide-eyed audience, both young and old.  Watson ensures absolute clarity in every aspect of this lively nod to the original 1939 film.

 Tin Man, Dorothy, Lion and Scarecrow arrive at the Emerald City

Artifice is stripped away and Ian Croker’s set design as well as serving a low budget theatre company encourages an audience to use their imagination. Design challenges such as a Yellow Brick Road, a sleep inducing field of poppies and a balloon that disappears into the sky are solved simply and imaginatively. Croker also creates a touch of nostalgia with his painted backdrop of a rolling landscape leading to the distant Emerald City. Painted backdrops are a lost and some would say unnecessary art in this age of special effects, but in this production it is another example of the charm evoked in Ickle Pickle’s telling of the story. Watson, with choreographer and assistant director Jodi Hammond and Musical Director Jenna Hintonhave created a wiz of a show, not because of any gimmick or hype, but because iIckle Pickle’s production tells a story that enthrals, excites and entertains with plain and simply storytelling.

Debra Byrne as the Wicked Witch of the West

It is no unfair criticism to say that Watson’s excellent casting of Hand, Morton,  Stewart and Dietz as the four characters off to see the wizard channels the immortal  Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bolger ( Scarecrow), Jack Haley (Tin Man) and Bert Lahr (Lion).Watson’s cast capture the essence of the original foursome in the ’39 film. But they have made each character distinctly their own, - the anxious, yet determined Dorothy, the oil dependent Tin Man, the uncoordinated Scarecrow and the cowardly lion with a mighty singing voice. There are fine performances from Debra Byrne as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West, Aleesha Boye as Gilda the good witch, although her goodness and sweet nature as Aunt Em and Gilda was a little too soft voiced, Kristofer Patston-Gil as Professor Marvel and the Wizard and Elliott Cleaves as Uncle Henry and the officious Emerald City Guard.

 Director Watson, choreographer Hammond and musical director Hinton have worked wonders with the enthusiastic and fun-filled ensemble of Munchkins and Winkies. Hammond mixes the choreography and style of past legends Florenz Ziegfeld, Busby Berkely and Gene Kelly  as well as imbuing her principals and ensemble with a confidence and joi d’vivre. Costume designer Janette Humphries  adds the finishing touch with a colourful array of costuming and an authentic  outfit in keeping with the original film version for Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man. Behind the scenes sound and lighting operators create magic moments with the storm, the smoke effects and the escape form the Wicked Witch’s field of poppies.

All in all Ickle Pickle’s return to Belconnen Community Theatre offers a triumphant production of a wonderful children’s story that has stood the test of time and delighted generations of young and old alike over the decades. The Wizard of Oz with its entrancing story, lively singing and dancing and exciting action is ideal holiday entertainment for the entire family. Welcome back Ickle Pickle. What a homecoming!

Photography by Cathy Breen