Wizard opportunity for young actors

With a cast of 300 aspiring young Norfolk actors, the Theatre Royal art course summer production is a task that would test even the great Wizard of Oz. However David Lampert has taken on a family musical updating of the classic story. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Past stars have gone on to appear in Pirates of the Caribbean and tread the boards at the RSC, and next week there's a chance to see some more stars of the future when 300 young people take part in the junior arts course's summer production at Norwich Theatre Royal.

This year's show Dorothy and the Princess of Oz — which boasts a whopping cast of 300 — has been written by the arts course director David Lambert (pictured right).

The family musical picks up on the story of Dorothy and her friends after the Wizard of Oz as all sorts of things are going wrong. Dorothy's aunt and uncle's farm is mortgaged to the hilt and an army is about to take over the Emerald City.

Their only hope is The Lost Princess whose powers can bring everything back to normal and so Dorothy starts an exciting quest to find her so she can save her friends and her home.

David Lambert said: 'A lot of people don't realise that L Frank Baum, who wrote The Wizard of Oz, wrote 13 other books about Oz. They were phenomenally successful in the early years of the 20th Century. I've taken plot and characters from about six of them and mingled them all together with a little touch of magic sprinkled over the top.

To research the story David had to return to the original books. 'I had to read about seven of them,' he said. 'Some are plot-lines that L. Frank Baum himself came up with, some are ones that I've picked out and adapted, so there was an awful lot of background research.

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'I also closely re-read the original book on which the famous film is based. In fact its very different from the book. It wasn't all a dream in the book and she didn't have ruby slippers in the book. They were invented by one of the film's director because they looked so good in the new Technicolor that they had, and in fact she has lost them on the return to Kansas.

'You'll also be sad to learn that Toto is no longer with us too. We just felt that with all those young people on the stage a Toto might just get a little upset.'

The show is a mammoth undertaking and, as well as devising the show, writing the book and scoring the music, David has to handle a huge cast of youngsters.

'There is about 300 in the total cast, obviously broken up in various performance groups,' he said. 'Our main cast is about 30 people, then we have three other choruses of about 30 each on each performance. So yes, its a little like organising the D-Day landings in terms of getting everyone in the right place, in the right costume and facing the right way at the right time, but we've managed it so far, so I'm sure it'll be all right.'

The show will also be a great opportunity to spot the stars of tomorrow with a number of former students going on to make performing their career most notably Sam Claflin who has a lead role in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Director David Lambert said: 'Sam was last on the Norwich Theatre Royal stage in Sinbad The Sailor four years ago. There may well be young people in Dorothy who you will see in the West End in four years time.

'The arts course has been a springboard for many students to go on to work with a wide range of companies — the RSC, West Yorkshire Playhouse and the BBC to name but three. It just goes to show what a wealth of talent we have on our doorstep'

Among those hoping to follow previous success is Joe Clark, who is playing the role of the Scarecrow. 'Obviously with such an iconic character you get to have that physicality and it is a lot of fun, especially doing it at the Theatre Royal,' he said.

Beth Gregory, is playing Mombi, based on another iconic role the Wicked Witch of the West. 'It's quite hard because you don't want to play the character very stereotypically, but then again you don't want to stray too far completely from the character because obviously the audience love that Wicked Witch character. I'd like to put my own spin on it though.'

Jack Brannon is playing the twin-baddie roles of the Nome King and Mr Vanderfeller.

'This show has it all really, massive costumes, a plot with lots of twists and turns that will keep you laughing and on the edge of your seat throughout,' he said.

? Dorothy and the Princess of Oz is at Norwich Theatre Royal from July 27-30, �8- �5.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk