Dorothy Nights at Royal Festival Hall

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As ‘The Wizard of Oz’ opens on stage at the Royal Festival Hall, Time Out hears about the Dorothy-themed acts lined up for the cabaret after-show

  • The opening of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as a stage musical at the Royal Festival Hall is just the latest in a long line of revivals and reinterpretations of L Frank Baum’s original 1900 fairy tale about the girl who goes over the rainbow to a magic world and then has to find her way home again.

    And while Jude Kelly’s version sticks closely to the famous 1939 film which made a star (and neurotic wreck) out of Judy Garland, the Southbank Centre is also acknowledging the cult that has grown up around the story and has always had a separate life of its own. In a novel move, the RFH’s public ballroom space will host a series of free events before and after the main show. Early in the evening, various musicians will be performing their versions of the film’s big numbers, but late on Fridays, things will be getting altogether more raunchy and grown-up as the space is transformed into a cabaret for Dorothy Nights.

    ‘People get very excited about the themes of Dorothy and how it had so many connotations,’ says Tamsin Ace, who has put together the cabaret line-up. ‘ “The Wizard of Oz” appeals to children, obviously, but it also appeals to adults, and then there’s the kitsch, gay aspect.’

    She had no difficulty finding cabaret artists willing to take on the Dorothy theme. ‘We range from burlesque to performance art, singer-songwriters and dancers,’ says Ace. ‘In fact, quite a few of the artists already had elements of their act that were themed around Judy Garland or “The Wizard of Oz”. For instance, Bearlesque (July 25 and August 22) already had a piece based on the winged monkeys.

    'Timberlina (August 29) does a Judy Garland set and performance artist Jonny Woo (July 25) does the Wicked Witch of the West. So we saw an opportunity to bring all these artists to a mainstream venue. But then a lot of the performances will be completely new, like the collaboration between David Hoyle and Nathan Evans, which is called “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” (August 1). That’s been created just for us and it’s really quite special – they’re using images and projections, which is something they’ve never done before.’

    What does she think is the appeal of the story? ‘It’s all about feeling out of place and thinking you don’t belong in your community, which is why so many artists relate to it. You go on this journey and find out you fit in after all. It’s quite a simple concept but it’s something that people can really identify with. And the other thing that gives the film its impact is the contrast of going from black-and-white into colour – that’s something a lot of the artists have spoken about. There’s something about the vibrancy of the make-believe world – the yellow is so yellow and the green is so green – but there’s also an element of longing for the glamour of the Emerald City yet realising that the little farm in Kansas is still your home.’

    'Dorothy Nights' run on Fridays from 10pm, July 25-Aug 29, at the Clore Ballroom, RFH, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, SE1 (0871 6632500/www.southbankcentre.co.uk) Waterloo tube/rail. Adm free.

    'The Wizard of Oz' runs July 23-Aug 31 at the RFH.

    A few theories about the true meaning of Oz…

    Spiritual awakening

    Dorothy’s journey to Oz is an allegory of death and transfiguration. She must learn the lesson that she already possesses the thing her heart most desires (the power to return home) – a message that echoes one of the Grand Pronouncements of Vedantic Hinduism, ‘tat tvam asi’ or ‘thou art that’.

    Populism

    ‘Oz’ is an allegory of Populism, a grass-roots political movement which campaigned for the free coinage of silver. Thus the Yellow Brick Road stands for the gold standard, with Dorothy’s silver shoes (they are silver in the book) dancing down it; the Scarecrow represents farmers; the Tin Man factory workers; Toto is short for ‘teetotaller’… and so on.

    Drugs

    In this pro-drug schema, the lollipop given to Dorothy by the Munchkins is her first taste of drugs. The Scarecrow has been told that his brain has been fried by drugs, but he is really just the victim of the ‘scare’ tactics of the straight world. The Tin Man is a junky whose oil can represents a syringe, while the Lion is ‘lyin’’ about his own drug use because he’s afraid of the disapproval of society.

    Zen

    The good witch Glinda is obviously a Zen master: her instruction to Dorothy, ‘Never let those ruby slippers off your feet’ really means ‘Never let go of your inner spiritual essence’.

    Freud

    Dorothy’s journey is a psychic reaction to walking in on Auntie Em and Uncle Henry having sex. She projects her anxiety about this event into the idea of a tornado which takes her to a dream state in which she must restore the phallus (the witch’s broomstick) to the father, or Wizard.

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