“ShayShay’s writing is undeniably queer and will make any friend of Dorothy proud”
Twenty years after her original trip, Dorothy – now non-binary, going by Doro-they or Dor to their friends (Lily Downes) – has returned to Oz to find an abysmal state of affairs. The Good Witch (Grace Kelly Miller) – Kelly, born in Oz, thus, Kelly Ozborn – is in the running for power but a great blizzard threatens to freeze everyone in a matter of hours. Dor finds themselves teaming up with old friends Scarecrow (Sara Nelson), Tin (Fizz Sinclair) and Lion (Milla Sutton) once again to save their beloved Oz by hunting down the assumed perpetrator The Wicked Witch of the West (Fèyi Wey). Puns and innuendo abound, The Witches of Oz – written and directed by ShayShay – treats its audience to a wickedly talented cast who offer singing, dancing and comedy all in equal strength.
The pop culture references are rife from The Wicked Witch’s name Adele Dazeem (an infamous faux pas by John Travolta as he tried to pronounce Idina Menzel) to Tin and Lion’s romantic duet of Take a Chance on Me as they walked across tables like Julie Walters in Mamma Mia. ShayShay’s writing is undeniably queer and will make any friend of Dorothy proud. The dialogue never misses a beat and any opportunity for a joke is taken. However, The Witches of Oz does not lack a message and behind all the ridiculousness the phrase ‘everything’s on a spectrum’ crops up time and time again whether this in relation to gender identity or morality. Climate change denial is also at the centre of the show as well as a call to listen to experts now rather than when it’s too late. These difficult topics are treated with good humour but still remain poignant.
The costumes (Alex Clow) are simply fantastic, and Tin looks particularly phenomenal in a full silver getup. The outfits and make-up are incredibly playful and creative with distinct personalities for each character. The sound and lighting design (Daffyd Gough and Clancy Flynn respectively) are equally great. The whole team does well to scale up the production from the small room where the room begins to the large room with two layered stages for its latter half. The songs chosen – both as dance tracks and for the cast to perform – are campy and fun and are sure to get the audience on their feet.
For an extra fee, audience members are able to enjoy the show with a three-course dinner that is vaguely themed around the film. Beginning with sweetcorn puree and corn bread to represent the yellow brick road, what follows is a buffet style selection of chicken and various greenery in homage to the Emerald City for main and an apple crumble – green, again – for dessert. You are also treated to an appetizer at entrance – a spicy piece of broccoli which – you guessed it – is green. It is a shame that each course is not in some way related to the Dorothy’s trio of companions or make reference to other iconic moments in the film – a candy cane for the Wicked Witch of the East’s socks perhaps, a tomato dish for Dorothy’s sparkly red shoes, or some sort of melting dessert à la our verdant antagonist’s famous death. Pleasantly, The Good Witch accompanies the dining experience with some cabaret tunes creating a real convivial atmosphere within the hall.
The Witches of Oz is an absolute riot and it would be impossible to leave without a smile on one’s face. The food is slightly disappointing but is generous in portion and kudos to the team for serving so many people with such swiftness. Overall, if you enjoy drag, cabaret and downright silliness, then this is the show for you.
“Both Rattigan and Drisch look the part in detailed and timely costumes”
Comte Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa was a French painter whose art gained significant notoriety through its colourful and lively depiction of the theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century. Producing over 737 canvases, 363 prints and posters and over 5,000 drawings in a career of less than 20 years, Toulouse-Lautrec was a powerhouse of the post-Impressionist movement.
Shadowmask Theatre’s new play Lautrec – directed by Natalie Winter – explores the success of this incredible artist but also his tragic fate. Born to nobility, Toulouse-Lautrec – played by Fergus Rattigan – suffered from stunted growth, his legs never healing properly from injuries in his early teens. In his despair, the young man turned his attention to creative endeavours whilst also embracing a philosophy of complete hedonism which included drinking to excess and frequenting brothels. Marie Drisch joins Rattigan on stage to play an impressive eleven characters – from Lautrec’s mother to the co-founder of the Moulin Rouge – all of which hold a significant place in the artist’s rise and fall.
Rattigan is fantastic as the play’s tragic hero, initially bursting onto stage speaking impassioned French before adapting for his English audience. He mixes the two languages well throughout with his accent rarely slipping. Our lead brings a great comedy to the role – a particular highlight being his first rendezvous with a prostitute – but he really shines in Lautrec’s final scenes in a psychiatric hospital where he suffers from hallucinations due to syphilis.
Drisch is a fine partner to the troubled artist, but her multitude of roles often makes her feel stretched thin as she frequently must throw on a new hat or accessory to signify the entrance of a new character. Drisch is best when she is allowed to settle into a role such as in an extended scene as Lautrec’s friend Yvette Guilbert where they discuss the artist’s frustration at never being considered a sexual option due to his disability. The play packs a lot into its hour runtime, and it is Drisch who unfortunately suffers most.
The theatre space is successfully utilised – a sofa, a small table and chairs and various props including a sketch book, a bottle of wine and numerous concealed hip flasks. Some of Lautrec’s most famous paintings and sketches decorate the surrounding walls – they are revealed throughout the performance as we move through the artist’s life. This is highly effective and makes the play’s final scenes even more poignant. One suggestion would be to litter the stage with more debris such as empty bottles and dirty clothes as the painter’s life spirals downwards.
Sound and lighting is basic and rarely used to its full potential. There are a few sound effects – dogs barking off stage, the sound of drinks pouring – but they are utilised inconsistently, and the actors unfortunately do not react in good time to their deployment. Lighting could be used for exciting results such as to emulate the excitement of the cabaret stage but instead remains static throughout except for the final scenes where Lautrec is on his deathbed. This feels like a missed opportunity and could really enliven the hedonistic portions of the play.
Both Rattigan and Drisch look the part in detailed and timely costumes. Notably, Rattigan becomes more and more dishevelled throughout the performance, removing his signature bowler hat and smart jacket as he descends into madness.
Lautrec is greatly successful in spotlighting the work and life of the formidable Toulouse-Lautrec and its vignettes will have you googling the artist for some time. With some polish and refinement, this play will go far.
Reviewed on 15th August 2022
by Flora Doble
PART OF CAMDEN FRINGE 2022
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