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The Wizard of Oz - Belvoir

An outstanding piece of theatre that's definitely not appropriate for children.
By Jessica Keath
May 04, 2015
By Jessica Keath
May 04, 2015

Adena Jacobs’ Wizard of Oz at Belvoir is something of a nightmarish dark twin to Spring Awakening. Each initial meeting Dorothy (Emily Milledge) has with her entourage of Scarecrow (Melita Jurisic), Tin Man (Jane Montgomery Griffiths) and Lion (Paul Capsis) is a dance of sexual defiance, after which Dorothy emerges stronger, until she meets her match (or mentor) in the sadist Witch (Luisa Hastings Edge), whose fluorescing face is a menacing triumph of design on the part of Kate Davis (of Melbourne's THE RABBLE).

When Jacobs put a glass box on stage last year in Hedda Gabler, Sydney’s critics worked themselves into a Simon Stone association flurry, immediately lumping her into a false category of ‘those auteur directors who like nudity and glass boxes’ (eg Simon Stone, Barrie Kosky and Benedict Andrews; who, by the way, are as different from each other as they are from David Williamson and therefore don’t constitute a meaningful category).

In Oz there stands the offending glass box again, but it’s pretty small and mobile; also there are microphones that drop intermittently from the ceiling. Yes, Ralph Myers’ design has the look of German auteur theatre, but Jacobs’ work is much more robust than merely abiding by a certain fashion.

Jacobs was criticised in Hedda for creating a flat, lifeless production, although some, like Rima Sabina Aouf and Alison Croggon pointed out that this was, in fact, an accurate depiction of disconnection and cruelty respectively.

And here’s the thing: Jacobs’ work is dark. Like, properly dark. The notes on Belvoir’s website state that The Wizard of Oz takes a significant departure from the original story and is not appropriate for the kiddies. It’s also not appropriate for adults. Nothing about Jacobs’ work is appropriate, and in stark contrast to Stone’s work, which at times trivialised great stories into edgy-looking soap operas, Jacobs is dancing with the devil. Or in this case, with a disturbing scarecrow played by the inimitable Jurisic.

Dorothy meets the Scarecrow through a curtain that cuts Ralph Myers’ stark concrete set in half. Jurisic hangs from a noose like rope extending from the ceiling as Dorothy hugs her through the curtain at the waist. Dressed in a scrappy white lace dress, Jurisic makes audible, rasping breaths through a stocking covering her face until Dorothy releases her.

Oz is an outstanding piece of theatre and there are only two flaws: we don’t see enough of Paul Capsis, and the picnic scene between Dorothy and the Witch reads as an unfinished improvisation.

Jacob’s Oz is unsentimental and intelligent, and each member of the tremendous cast is as fearless as the next to reveal the grotesque in themselves.

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