The Wizard of Oz: Caldbeck Players

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This review by Keith Richardson first appeared in the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald and in slightly abridged form in the Cumberland News.

CALDBECK Players’ The Wizard of Oz, performed over three nights in the village hall, was a magical production in more ways than one. The show was not only colourful and entertaining, it was also the culmination of a fantastic team effort by everyone involved, both on stage, back stage and front of house.

The work which has gone into the rich variety of shows staged over the years under the banner of Caldbeck Players is second to none and this latest production was no exception.

Budding young stage performers face many challenges on the route to “stardom” and Aimee Lillington — who gave a commanding performance in the central role of Dorothy — had a most unexpected challenge to overcome when she set foot on the Yellow Brick Road for the opening night in front of an appreciative audience.

The production team of Antoinette Ward and Karen Atkinson clearly had no reservations in casting a real dog in the role of Toto, despite warnings about artistic endeavour involving four-legged friends. With Toto, a little black terrier which normally answers to the name of Jasper, secure on his lead and clearly set to woo the audience what could possibly go wrong? Just about everything actually. As Dorothy started to sing her opening solo, barely five minutes into the show, Jasper decided to put on an entirely different performance. He was a real party pooper if there ever was one!
Aimee Lillington, to her immense credit, was not fazed by this unexpected turn of events and gently ushered her unruly charge, still on his lead, to the wings before returning to centre stage where, smiling all the while, she completed her song — interrupted only briefly by a man with a poop scoop — and received a well-deserved round of applause. This was amateur dramatics in the raw.

Aimee, as Dorothy, was superb and went on to provide an authoritative performance with tremendous support from other principal players such as Jonny Trotter (the Lion and Zeke) who provided much of the humour throughout with a truly courageous showing, Sarah Lewin (Miss Gultch and the Wicked Witch of the North), Martin Woodham (Tinman and Hickory) and James Lennon (Scarecrow and Hunk). Tim Cartmell once again used his booming voice to good effect as he revelled in the roles of Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz while Jane Simpson was a very convincing Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.

The sets were glitzy and appealing and I especially liked the colour and striking originality of trees in the Emerald Forest. Similarly, a massive amount of work had clearly gone into the various costumes. Nor did the performers limit their performances to the stage and many entrances and exits were made on the central aisle through the audience.

Musical accompaniment by Arran Horne and David Ward was accomplished and stretched to the absolute limit by some demanding and lengthy set changes. All the children who had minor parts in the show did so with enthusiasm and there was applause for one particular Munchkin who somehow became isolated on the wrong side of the curtain at the end of an act. Choreography for the dance routines was good, especially in the routine featuring the ghosts. This was a heart-warming, happy and enjoyable production staged on a wet and windy Cumbrian evening when the hospitality and the entertainment afforded in the village hall and by Caldbeck Players was most welcome.

Other players and stage personnel not already mentioned, but richly deserving of recognition, were: Kate Butler (Aunt Em) and Steve Emery (Uncle Henry and Guard); various other roles, taken by Keir Atkinson, Lucy Jones, Lauren Woodham, Ella Horne, Etta Cooper, Rory Woodham, Polly Cooper, Megan Emery, Alex Stevens, Josie Stevens, Anya Lennon, Freya Lennon and Emily Butler.

Back stage:
Anne Cartmell, prompt;
Pat Shaw and Carol Hine, props;
Carol Bolton, Anne Cartmell, Carol Hine, Carol Slinger, Hannah Stevens, Diane Woodham, Antoinette Ward, costumes;
Barbara Mitchell, hair and make-up;
Helen Horne, Christine Lennon, Hannah Stevens, Diane Woodham, backstage assistants;
David Beale, Tony Bolton, Simon Braithwaite, Norman and Karen Atkinson, Tim and Anne Cartmell, Alastair Macfadzean, Pat Shaw, Hannah Stevens, Carol Hine and Antoinette Ward, set construction and design.
Michael Stockdale was in charge of lighting.
The backdrop to the set was designed and painted by Rebecca Brockbank.

Front of house were Gordon Archer, Bridget Archer, Tony Bolton, Toby and Jennifer Collard, Teresa Richardson and Ken and Pauline Woolfenden.

K. T. R.