Schools line up for Brummie-inspired Wizard of Oz

Schools in Birmingham will be heading along the Yellow Brick Road next Friday (September 22) for a special sold-out performance for students of a Brummie-inspired version of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’.

The new adaptation will kick off the popular weekend-long Little but LIVE! (September 22-24 2023) community arts festival in Moseley Park, which has become a seasonal and well-established fixture in the city.

Following Dot, a young Brummie in care, the show relocates “Oz” to Birmingham, taking the audience on a raucous exploration of what “home” really means. 
A theatre production for all the family with music inspired by Midlands artists, including UB40, Ozzy Osbourne, The Streets and Nick Drake, it promises to be a truly magical celebration of Birmingham as the Emerald City.

This Brummie-inspired version of the Wizard of Oz, which will also show to the general public every day throughout the festival weekend, is proving a sell-out –  so popular that an extra show has been added to next week’s festival programme.

There will be two performances now on Sunday (September 24).

The show has been written and created by Birmingham company Paperback Theatre. After the success of their re-imagining of Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ at ‘Little but LIVE! in 2021, followed by a national tour last year, Paperback returns with their own version of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’.  

Little but LIVE! – set up by Paperback in the middle of the pandemic in 2020 – brought top-class performance to appreciative and isolated communities in the beautiful setting of Moseley Park.

Arts Council England has increased its financial backing for what has become Birmingham’s go-to festival for local communities. The additional funding has enabled Paperback to offer theatre performances and workshops free, which has made them increasingly popular with schools.

Bernie Phillips, a teacher at the city’s Arc Oakbridge School, a specialist school for students with autism, is coming back with students this September after bringing a group to Little but LIVE! last year to see Paperback’s performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors’.

She said: “Our students were totally gripped, which is remarkable given it was a Shakespeare play they hadn’t studied and many had never felt able to go to a live theatre performance before. 

Being an outdoor theatre production reduced the sensory demands on the students so they could relax and the fact the play was so lively and funny and the actors engaged the audience so quickly, meant they were inspired and afterwards wanted to put on their own shows.

“They loved every minute and we have taken them to more theatre since.

“The fact it is a free event is also helpful, as school budgets need to be carefully considered in the current climate.”

The performance for students is on Friday morning at 11am, September 22nd and public performances are at 2.30pm Saturday September 23rd and at 12 noon and again at 2.30pm on Sunday 24th.

The Playhouse will hold a Wizard of Oz drama workshop for 8–18-year-olds at 3.30pm on Sunday 24th, exploring their responses to this new production.

This innovative production of Oz has been adapted by George Attwell Gerhards and directed by Lucy Bird, Paperback’s founders. 

They have worked with composer Steve McCourt to produce original songs inspired by the sounds of Birmingham. The company also collaborated with local school, Queensbridge, and has used the ideas from a student songwriting workshop to inspire the music in the production.

Despite the cultural nostalgia, underlying the narrative is an exploration of what it means to be a young person today and what “home” means for those living outside traditional family set-ups.

Lucy Bird said: We often give a new slant to much-loved stories, from Shakespeare to ‘Wind in the Willows’.