The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at the University of Bolton Stadium Review

4-31 December 2018

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Reviewed by Kim Bickerdike

So, I think we can all agree that when the Wizard of Oz is in town, the only natural reaction is to book tickets! This show is an absolute theatrical classic and having seen Wicked earlier in the year, going to see this was an absolute no-brainer.

The Octagon Theatre in Bolton is currently undergoing some refurbishment works and so the show was actually at the University of Bolton Stadium. This caused a little confusion at first (as did the availability of parking and the entrance to the Premier Suite, but we got there in the end. For those visiting, we parked in car park A (the barriers were raised when we arrived) and then followed the signs round the right hand side of the stadium until we arrived at the location.

Upon arrival, there is a real carnival atmosphere. On the way to the show we had discussed how the theatre might be set out in a ‘suite’, but any concerns we had vanished as soon as we walked through the doors! All of the staff were smiley and happy, all of the usual refreshments were available, with the addition of slush puppies, candy floss hot dogs, popcorn, ice creams etc too. The excitement in the room was clear to see, as children were darting all over, struggling to keep still with excitement.

Shortly before the show began we took our seats. We sat in the middle stalls, row G, and the view of the stage was brilliant. There was plenty of leg room and the seats were comfy. This ‘make-shift theatre’ was very well thought out indeed!

The show began and it’s as we would all expect, brilliant! I won’t spoil it for anyone, but in short, the story follows Dorothy and her dog Toto as they get transported to Oz and try to make their way back to grey ol’ Bolton. It’s a fun twist on the original story, with some traditional Lancashire thrown in for good measure! It was lovely to see such an inclusive cast with so many juniors up on the stage. There were plenty of catchy songs and of course it’s only right that we join in with ‘the yellow brick road’ song isn’t it?! The cast worked tirelessly throughout the performance, using the whole theatre as their stage as the story unfolded, with a dollop of audience participation which unsurprisingly had the children grinning from ear to ear! The sets were really well presented and the support team made very smooth set changes, kindly helped by the distraction of the main cast coming down into the audience along their adventure.

Something that we really enjoy at the theatre, is catching a sneeky glimpse of the musicians. These people work tirelessly during every single performance and are rarely seen to be appreciated. In this showing of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz though, this wasn’t the case at all. The musicians could be seen throughout almost all of the performance and it was fabulous! One of the drum sets was ‘handled’ in the main by Matthew Ganley (also playing Uncle Henry/The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) but at times others took over whilst he took to the stage. All I’ll say on the matter is that you’ve never appreciated listening to the drums as much as you have when you watch a cowardly lion, wearing a crown, bang out the beat!

So, how was the acting, you might be thinking? Well, brilliant from start to finish is the simplest answer. Dorothy was played with energy, youthfulness and excitement, the lion with a fantastic booming brummie accent, the tin man with all of the emotion we’ve come to expect, the fearsome wicked witches and all of the others along the way. The stand out performance for us, was the scarecrow, played by David Heywood. Every time he opened his mouth to speak, we were in stitches! His movements were fantastically in-keeping with his role and his expressions and mannerisms were hilarious. I always appreciate the difficulty of performing in a role like this, but David absolutely rocked it! He’s almost certainly destined for big things so don’t miss the opportunity to see him now!

In summary then, this is fantastic fun for all of the family. The venue was really well adapted to give that theatre feel (well done to all of the set crew!) and the performance, brilliant. At this price I really don’t think you’ll have more fun supporting a local theatre.

The boring stuff:

Duration – 2 hours including the interval

Ease of access – very easy. It’s just off the motorway so perfect for those driving. The website could perhaps give a plan to show suitable parking and the location of the suite in relation to the stadium, but otherwise much easier to get to than the city centre theatres.

Toilets – functional, but perfectly acceptable and clean

Food and drink prices – entirely reasonable (having regard to it being a theatre production)

Rating: 5/5

Tickets cost from £16 to £24 (booking fees may apply).

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is at the University of Bolton Stadium from 4-31 December 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit octagonbolton.co.uk or call the box office on 01204 520661.

The University of Bolton Stadium, Burnden Way, Horwich, Bolton, BL6 6JW

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