Riccarton Bush (outside Riccarton House), Christchurch

03/02/2016 - 21/02/2016

Production Details

Free family theatre comes to Christchurch

Free entertainment for all the family is back in the Riccarton House grounds this year with a new Anthony Harper Summer Theatre production from The Forge at The Court.

A cast of 10 talented actors are staging a cheeky and nostalgic retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Shows start on Wednesday 3 February and run until Sunday 21 February, with performances on Wednesday to Friday at 7pm, and two shows on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm.

Director Dan Pengelly says The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is set to equal the 2015 production, Peter Pan, and promises to be another enthralling show.  

“Put together a picnic and bring down a rug to enjoy this family comedy. We are promising lots of fun with plenty of audience participation,” Pengelly says.

“All the characters you know and love will be there – from Dorothy and Toto, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, to the Wicked Witch of the West and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz himself. Each will be brought to life in a fresh interpretation.”

He says this theatre style is live and playful, with the script as a guide, the dialogue will evolve from show to show, in tune with the audience’s reactions.

The cast includes four professional actors and six aged from 17 to 21 who are part of The Court Theatre’s Youth Company. One of them is 18-year old Christchurch student Maddie Harris who plays Dorothy, a well-mannered southern belle going on an adventure. With 10 years’ acting in musical theatre behind her already, playing the lead in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the ex-Christchurch Girls’ High School student’s biggest role so far.

“I am excited about creating the character of Dorothy – what she faces and how she evolves as a character is all fascinating. She is different to me, interesting to explore, and I am enjoying the process of devising her with everyone else in the cast,” Harris says.

Award-winning law firm Anthony Harper has been behind this free family event, part of the Christchurch City Council’s popular SummerTimes programme, for the past 12 years. This year is a celebration of Anthony Harper’s 150th anniversary and the firm’s long links to Christchurch.

Anthony Harper Summer Theatre is set in the gardens of New Zealand heritage-listed Riccarton House, bordered by the Avon River. It is an ideal location for families to come together and enjoy theatre produced by New Zealand’s longest running professional theatre company.

Riccarton House
Wednesday 3 – Sunday 21 February
Wednesday – Friday, 7pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm.

Maddie Harris:  Dorothy
Jesse Ranson:  Toto & Flying Monkey
Zak Enayat:  Scarecrow
Nick Cheesebrough:  Tinman 
Andrew Ford:  Cowardly Lion 
Millie Hanford:  Glinda, Winkie, Munchkin
Kathleen Burns:  Kansas neighbour, Wicked Witch of the West, Munchkin
Jared Corbin:  Uncle Henri, Wizard of Oz, Winkie, Munhckin, Flying Monkey
Becky Gallacher:  Aunty Em, Winkie, Munchkin
Vincent Andrew-Scammell:  Munchkin, Guard of Gate, Winkie, Flying Monkey 

Alice Pardoe:  Stage Manager
Oliver Morse:  Set and Props Designer and Maker
Te Aihe Butler:  Sound Design & Operator
Alison Roigard:  Costume Designer and Maker  

Theatre , Family , Children’s ,

1hr 40min including interval

An entertaining blend of the familiar and the undreamed-of

Review by Lindsay Clark 04th Feb 2016

Playful is the name of the game for this enterprising production, which thrives on the challenges of reproducing big physical or magicked moments on a compact outdoor stage with inventiveness and a huge sense of fun. The audience loves the ingenuity of solving the hard parts and plays right along. 

Summer weather does not always favour al fresco evening performances but this year’s Summertimes freebie has found a very sheltered spot on the lawn behind Riccarton House, with good sightlines, easy access and refreshment stalls to ensure a perfect picnic while we are enjoying the capers of Dorothy and all. 

All the essentials of L Frank Baum’s original work are there. After a powerful tornado, Dorothy and her dog Toto find themselves stranded in a strange land, complete with witches and no hope of getting home unless she can seek out the wonderful wizard who knows about such things. Scarecrow, Tinman and the Cowardly Lion, each seeking something too (a brain, a heart and courage respectively) tag along, making up the famous foursome. Five, of course, with Toto the dog who is an adorable puppet in this telling.

Ensemble work is necessarily tight, established from the start in whisking through first Dorothy’s world in Kansas and then the tornado which lands her among the Munchkins and at the mercy of the wickedest witch of all. Energy levels are high, carrying the story along through all manner of fun physical solutions to increasingly demanding situations.

It would not be fair to detail these and spoil the surprises, but it can safely be recorded that although key roles and the basic story line are soundly dealt with, fresh ideas and gags are happening all the time, including some wacky audience participation.

A zippy ensemble, then, is one important element in the production’s success. Another is the colourful interpretation of key characters. Four professionals are involved.

Zak Enayat infuses new life into the Scarecrow by having him celebrate freedom with a fine piece of rap and a vigorous East London accent, while Cowardly Lion is relayed in gloriously camp fashion by Andrew Ford. Kathleen Burns rages in full voice as the Wicked Witch of the West and melts when the time comes in truly spectacular fashion.

The Wizard of Oz himself, refreshingly remodelled, is Jared Corbin, presiding over a game show, piling on the whimsy at a stage when we think it must all be over. 

Maddie Harris as Dorothy, Nick Cheesebrough as Tinman and Jesse Ranson as the puppeteer for Toto as well as a Flying Monkey (yes, from the band), all show they are well up to carrying a major role.

In keeping with the fast-moving and often freshly realised plot, sound support (Te Ahe Butler), clever props and set (Oliver Morse) and versatile costumes (Alison Roigard) are spot on.

Pulling it all together to give us genuine family fun with an entertaining blend of the familiar and the undreamed-of, Daniel Pengelly’s direction sets the pace for a season of happy evenings this summer.


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