REVIEW: Agatha Meehan so at home in The Wizard Of Oz, Leeds Playhouse *****

Agatha Meehan, from York, in the lead role of Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz at Leeds Playhouse, All pictures: The Other Richard

The Wizard Of Oz, Leeds Playhouse, until January 25 2020. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at

AGATHA Meehan is going places. Right now, the blossoming York acting talent is travelling in a whirling tornado from her Kansas farm to Oz and the Emerald City in the lead role of Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz.

Already she has starred in the West End as Summer Hathaway in School Of Rock and Annie in Annie, a part she first played for York Musical Theatre Company in March 2017 while a pupil at St George’s RC Primary School.

After adding Jane in the UK premiere of A Little Princess at the Royal Festival Hall to her London credits, now she is alternating Dorothy with Lucy Sherman in the first Christmas family musical in the Quarry Theatre since the Leeds Playhouse’s £15.8 million redevelopment. All this, and she is only 12 years old. What a whirlwind rise.

Sam Harrison’s Tinman leading a merry dance in The Wizard Of Oz

There’s no place that Agatha feels more at home than on stage, and she gives a remarkably assured performance, from the moment she sings the iconic Over The Rainbow.

Her Kansas accent is spot on; her Dorothy, in pigtails and farm dungarees and later the ever-evocative blue gingham dress, is a stoical young girl of moral conviction, passion and determination, challenging adult authority and inertia in Baum’s  Kansas of the 1900s and Emerald City alike.

Combining Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg’s songs from the more innocent 1939 MGM film with John Kane’s witty, somewhat knowing 1987 script for the Royal Shakespeare Company, artistic director James Brining’s production delivers on an epic, filmic scale, full of heart and humour, joy and jeopardy, Munchkins and monkeys, mystery and magic.

Eleanor Sutton’s Scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz

Meehan’s Dorothy is surrounded by a combination of hi-tech and lo-tech, and likewise the familiar and the freshened up, with Jitterbug re-introduced as one of two premier league showstoppers alongside The Merry Old Land Of Oz, choreographed to dazzling effect by Lucy Cullingford.

Phil Cole’s Uncle Henry and Angela Wynter’s Aunt Em are a mixed-race couple; Eleanor Sutton is a female Scarecrow; Sam Harrison’s Tinman is gay and the outstanding Marcus Ayton is a black timorous Lion, with boxing moves and a knock-out singing voice to boot for If I Were King Of The Forest.

Simon Wainwright, from innovative Leeds company Imitating The Dog, provides the video projections for the twister scene that combine with the time-honoured skills of spinning aerialists. Toto the dog is played by a real dog before the storm, then by a puppet animated so expressively by Ailsa Dalling in Oz. Look out too for the crow puppets, and be sure to duck when the Wicked Witch of the West and her dive-bombing monkeys are flying overhead.

A roaring success: Marcus Ayton’s outstanding Lion in The Wizard Of Oz at Leeds Playhouse

Polly Lister is terrifically terrifying as the mean, twisted neighbour Miss Gulch and the cackling, droll Wicked Witch, whose vamp camp air never quite ventures into pantomime villainy.

As you would expect of a major-city Christmas show, this is a big, big production:  a cast of 20, supported by a young Leeds community company as the Munchkins; a band of 11 directed with panache by Tamara Saringer; and wonderful set and costume designs by Simon Higlett, whose palette progresses from parched, dustbowl Kansas with its plain farmhouse and water tower, to the spectacular greens and yellows of a futuristic Emerald City.

Click your ruby red heels, make a wish and find yourself having a wizard time on the Yellow Brick Road at Leeds Playhouse this winter.

Toto and puppeteer Ailsa Dalling in The Wizard Of Oz

Review by Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: Cinderella, Northern Ballet, Leeds Grand Theatre *****

Minju Kang and Rachael Gillespie in Northern Ballet’s Cinderella at Leeds Grand Theatre

Northern Ballet in Cinderella, Leeds Grand Theatre, until January 2 2020. Box office: 0844 848 2700 or at

FOR the most magical Christmas show of this winter, look no further than Northern Ballet’s revival of Cinderella, first staged at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2013.

The prettiest, most breath-taking transformation of Yorkshire’s winter theatre wonderland is back, three bounding huskies et al.

The Cinderella story exists in myriad forms across the world and through the ages, our British pantomimes being the most familiar but also the most misleading when presented with the Eastern mysticism of Canadian artistic director, choreographer and costume designer David Nixon and his associate director Patricia Doyle’s beautiful, painfully romantic interpretation.

Set in Imperial Russia at a time when “superstitious people believe in the possibility of magic” and the repressive authorities believe in the power of gun rule and constantly barking dogs, Northern Ballet’s oriental fairy-tale production opens in a burst of yellow flowers beneath the deepest blue sky on the hottest of days, far removed from pantomime’s glitter and chintz.

Out go the Fairy Godmother and Buttons, pumpkins and cross-dressing Ugly Sisters. In come acrobats and a towering stilt walker, a bear and huskies, a kindly Easter magician (the wonderful Ashley Dixon); a servant who ends up being shot for helping Cinderella and skaters sashaying across a frosted lake.

Cinderella’s anything but ugly stepsisters, Natasha and Sophia (Kyungka Kwak and Rachael Gillespie) are not wild cards but wholly subservient to the despicably wicked yet immaculately fashionable step-mother, Countess Serbrenska (Minju Kang, roundly booed but soon cheered at the end after her fabulously theatrical performance).

Duncan Hayler’s set design has the sleight of hand of a magician, not only in the transformation scene where the kitchen comes alive but also when the invitation envelope to the royal ball is peeled open to reveal a dazzling, white ballroom. Philip Feeney’s compositions, gorgeous throughout, bring even more of a flourish to Hayler’s works of wonder.

Yet the designs never out-dazzle Sarah Chun’s put-upon but blossoming Cinderella or Jonathan Hanks’s powerful Prince Mikhail.

A glorious show in a well-deserved return, Cinderella is Northern Ballet at Nixon’s very best.

Charles Hutchinson