The Wizard of Oz | Belvoir

The Wizard of Oz | BelvoirLeft – Paul Capsis. Cover – Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Emily Milledge and Melita Jurisic. Photos – Brett Boardman

It’s said that you can’t unscramble an egg. When it comes to stories and symbols I think the point is well made. Take L. Frank Baum’s 1900 American children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and it’s contemporary adaptation at Sydney’s Belvoir.

Baum’s rather anaemic adaptation of the European fairy tale is a sort of mid-Western Alice in Wonderland. Absent Carroll’s refracting and enlightening nonsense, Oz is a fairly sober American allegory. 19th century contests between American farmers, workers, and populists, on the one hand, and the forces of finance and industry are all variously personified.

That rather pedestrian bed-time allegory of American utopia was emphatically updated in 1939 by Judy Garland and what she came to symbolize. Dorothy became the abiding symbol of gay life in America. A “friend of Dorothy” was a gay man. “Over the Rainbow” inspired the gay-pride flag. Mourners from Garland’s funeral even instigated the Stonewall riots.

Now another update; this time nightmarish and surreal. Director Adena Jacobs has reimagined Oz as a “symbolic dream” telling what she calls a “central myth within our culture”, one which is concerned with the female body and the female mind.

This is not the MGM version. There are no munchkins and the lion wears a sex-muzzle. It is bleak and a little terrifying. Children will cry a little, grown men a lot. This is theatre of smoke and nipple (both abound), but little meaning. Dorothy’s friends are menacing totems, ghoulish and witch-like. The Wizard is a kabuki power-woman with a radioactive efflorescent mask. This Wizard of Oz happens somewhere between West African vodun and bad acid trip. In other words we are a very, very long way from Kansas.

I like the experimental, but I wonder if by foregoing a clear story Jacobs hasn’t also lost any chance of finding a meaning as well. Stories and Myths resonate because we understand something through them. This Wizard of Oz has a lot of shock, but is mostly bore.

Belvoir presents
The Wizard of Oz
After L. Frank Baum

Director Adena Jacobs

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 2 – 31 May 2015
Tickets: Full from $72 | Seniors/Industry/Group $62 | Concession $49 | Previews $50
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 |

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