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Al fresco Oz is breath of fresh air

PUBLISHED: 15:07 19 August 2009 | UPDATED: 17:26 16 August 2010

WIZARD SHOW: Dorothy (Anya Williment) Tin Man (Ian Slipper) and the Scarecrow (Christian Lloyd).

WIZARD SHOW: Dorothy (Anya Williment) Tin Man (Ian Slipper) and the Scarecrow (Christian Lloyd).

I sometimes wonder what open-air theatre is actually for, writes Mark Campbell. Is it just a novel way of performing something

I sometimes wonder what open-air theatre is actually for, writes Mark Campbell.

Is it just a novel way of performing something that could equally well (better, perhaps) be done indoors? Or should there be something integral to the outdoor setting?

The Riverside Players' recent production of The Wizard of Oz showed exactly what the point was: truth told, I have never seen a more spectacular site-specific open-air show in my life.

Beguiling, exciting, dramatic and strangely moving, this enormously impressive musical captured the essence of the wonderful MGM movie right from the off.

The story starts in a farm of course, and so Eynsford's Furlongs Farm, complete with realistic farmyard smells, was the ideal venue.

From there, a stunning light and sound show (sans wind-machines, sadly) whisked Dorothy and Toto off to the magical land of Oz - where things just got better and better.

Christian Lloyd was an acrobatically raggedy Scarecrow, with Ian Slipper a robotic Tin Man with a Cyberman-style backstory, and Lawrence Watling a campy Cowardly Lion with a decidedly droopy tail.

As Dorothy, Claire Marsh - understudying for Anya Williment - gave a bold, confident performance, coping admirably when her feisty pooch did her best to destroy the set early on.

Vanessa Elliot exuded warmth as good witch Glinda, while a green-faced Claire Kingshott coaxed many a 'Boo!' from the audience as the heartless Wicked Witch of the West.

As the ineffectual Wizard, Dick Kemp was dwarfed by an astonishing mechanical Oz head that looked like something from Doctor Who.

The hidden orchestra were note-perfect throughout and the huge chorus of poppies, snowgirls, trees, and monkeys wore the most amazing costumes, designed and made by the players themselves.

The production team of Clive Stanyon, Phil Ward, Jo Groves, Lynda Newton and Debbie Beard, together with their enormous team of backstage workers, really did create a mini-masterpiece. In a field in Kent.

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more!"

l The Riverside Players' next production will be Bouncers by John Godber, from October 2 to 10. Call the box office on 01322 861 001 for tickets.

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