Saturday, September 24, 2011

BBC Radio 4 - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

BBC Radio dramatizations are well known for being high quality productions with music and a faithful adaptation. But would you believe they've done The Wonderful Wizard of Oz twice?

Their first adaptation was done in the 1990s, but we'll get to that one later. The one at hand is a bit more recent, from December 2009.

The production runs about an hour with superb music, sound effects, and voice acting. The thing is, rather than rushing through Baum's story, writer Linda Marshall decided to do some revisions. The story opens right with the cyclone coming towards Dorothy's home, immediately setting up an exciting, serious, and suspenseful pace.

When Dorothy arrives in Oz, she sees smoke and thinks her house is on fire, but a Munchkin arrives and tells her that it is the Wicked Witch of the East dying. Shortly, they fight off a flying monkey together before the Good Witch of the North arrives. In Marshall's Oz, Witches are invisible to those afraid of them, which makes the Wicked Witches extra dangerous, and renders the Good Witches invisible.

Dorothy sets off down the yellow brick road, where she meets the Scarecrow, but as she tires, they find a cottage, and outside, the Tin Woodman (played by Torchwood's Burn Gorman), who has a different origin story this time: his dedication to his work made him heartless, as he replaced severed limbs with tin. (I do not think this change was for the better, as it makes him less of a likable character.) The lion soon appears and refuses to hurt Dorothy. He's fleeing for his life, as Kalidahs are nearby. (He even blames the Tin Woodman for cutting down too many trees, removing hiding places for animals.)

The Kalidahs attack and the lion is forced to carry Dorothy and the Scarecrow over a ditch to save them. The Tin Woodman has to cut a tree down so he can cross, and then manages to get it into the ditch, killing the Kalidah. Soon, they find the Emerald City, which sounds like a wonderful city with people living in poverty on the outside.

The Wizard does grant audiences, but he appears to people as the thing they fear the most. Dorothy finds herself in the cyclone again, the Scarecrow sees fire, the Tin Woodman sees water, and the Lion sees a fierce Kalidah.

The Winkie Country is a dry desert, and the Wicked Witch immediately sends the Winged Monkeys, who she had promised to set them free after one more task. After Dorothy defeats them and the Winged Monkeys drop them off, the king of the Winged Monkeys asks for his freedom, but Dorothy refuses until she gets home, making him say she's no different from the rest of the witches.

When the four friends enter the Wizard's chamber again, it sounds as their combined presence is too much for his pyrotechnics and other devices to handle, and they stop working, revealing him as the man he is. He tells the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion that they have to work on getting knowledge, love, and courage themselves, and they're already on a good start. However, his attempt to take Dorothy home in his balloon fails, and he calls down that they should try Glinda.

The journey south finds Dorothy finally stopping and coming to terms with herself before Glinda appears to her. What is Dorothy's problem? Fear. Fear of??? ... Admittedly, Marshall isn't too clear on this. Is Dorothy's home life so bad that she lives in constant fear? At the end, Aunt Em says she finally feels joy at Dorothy's return, but why would living with a gloomy aunt and uncle instill fear? I suppose an hour long production was just too short to work this idea out fully.

When the program aired, it was available on the BBC iPlayer, which allows radio programs to be streamed worldwide. (Videos are region locked.) It was aired a few times in December, but has not been aired since.

However, the production is available on for about $5.

Overall, it's an interesting take on Oz, but some of the concepts introduced really needed some fleshing out.

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