The Wizard of Gurnwah at Merthyr Rising When I heard of an alternative Welsh take on The Wizard of Oz would be showing at this year's Merthyr Rising Festival, I was excited to say the least.
I also didn't have a clue what to expect from this comedy stage play. I thought, how on earth can there be similarities between the 1939 film and my hometown? Well, writers Anthony 'Bunko' Griffiths and Paul O'Sullivan certainly drew out a few things in common between the two worlds and had a packed theatre doubled over in laughter.
The play sees Bedlinog-born Dorothy end up in Merthyr after a very well executed hurricane with her dog Terry, before setting out to search for the famous wizard of Gurnwah (the Gurnos, for non-locals) to help her get back home. Predictably, Dorothy meets a few characters along the way who poke fun at local issues and stereotypes.
Act one sets the scene as Dorothy meets Dole Boy, who, with a few word swaps, gives a brilliant rendition of the Scarecrow's score If I Only Had a Brain; Bag Lady, a tough homeless woman who finds herself out on the streets; and Rocky, a coward who won't fight even though he comes from a "rough" family. Dorothy, played by Emma Hickey, sweetly sings Somewhere over the Rhondda, Judy Garland's ruby slippers are substituted for a pair of white stilettos and we are introduced to the fictional villain, the wicked "witch" of the council, whose equally fictional sister sits on the planning committee.
Directed by Merthyr-born Neil Maidman, it's clear from the start the play is made by, for and about the people of the town with local issues featuring in the script.
A cast of local talent did not disappoint. Jenni Davies' character of Glinda, a waitress at the long-gone Hing Hong's Chinese restaurant, Penydarren boy Callum Kemp Jones, Emma Hickey's Dorothy, Sharon Harries' Bag Lady, and swing singer Paul Black, playing Dole Boy, had excellent comedy value.
While act two could have been condensed, the play did its job perfectly - it made people laugh and brought the town together.
There will be further performances at Theatr Soar, Pontmorlais on June 13 and 14. For tickets, call 01685 722176 Katie Sands