Theatre review: Wicked

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It takes a brave writer indeed to grab hold of a much-loved classic piece of literature or film and use it as the basis of something new; whether a prequel, sequel, or twist on the events of a well-known story.

But this is exactly what Gregory Maguire did when he sat down to write Wicked, a new take on L. Frank Baum’s ever-popular The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, telling the previously untold story of the truth behind The Wicked Witch Of The West.

In recent years this book has been transformed into the all singing, all dancing stage spectacular Wicked, which I was lucky enough to see at Milton Keynes Theatre this week.

Far from a complete act of evil against the original conception of the Oz story, Wicked is a thought-provoking but fun masterpiece which only adds to the old-familiar story of Dorothy and Toto, without including these characters as a major part of the action.

The story follows the adventures of the ‘wicked’ witch Elphaba, who was born green and has lived with the consequences ever since. Elphaba meets the blonde, popular and ditsy ‘good’ witch Glinda when they are both sorcery students and an unusual friendship develops, forged through mutual kindness.

From what I had heard about the musical, I was expecting good things and I wasn’t disappointed.

Visually, the set and staging were awe-inspiring, with one feature including a smoke breathing, animatronic dragon towering over the audience and cast. There were some scenes which were brilliantly staged in terms of technical trickery, not least a moment towards the end of the first section in which Elphaba learns to fly her broomstick.

In terms of acting, there were no weak links. Despite being a musical full of stage stunts and dance sequences, character is also important to the success of this show. Both the lead actresses, Emily Tierney (Glinda) and Nikki Davis-Jones (Elphaba) succeeded in portraying their characters strongly.

While Emily was brilliant and funny at delivering Glinda’s egocentric hair-flicks and chaotic mannerisms, Nikki worked in close partnership to successfully portray Glinda’s opposite; an intense and awkward girl full of visionary ideas, magical skill and more than a few hang-ups about her past.

I loved this musical, not only because of its imaginative stage techniques, powerful songs and charismatic characters, but also because it made me think more deeply about what it really means to call someone Wicked and how often people ask the question: why?

Wicked continues at Milton Keynes Theatre until March 8.