THE LAND OF OZ
It was only this year that I met The Tinman. I’ve no idea how it came up, but one minute I was joking around about being Dorothy at primary school and the next thing Jack was singing about what would life would be like if he’d only had a heart, reminiscing about his days as The Tinman in his own school’s play. It was barely a few weeks after this that we met the Lion. Neither us had met Tristan before, but one night we got chatting to him about how we’d played Dorothy and the Tinman when he dropped the bomb. He had, indeed, played the cowardly lion. I had to find the Scarecrow...
I put an ad out. I plastered posters up. I leafleted in the streets - “Were you the Scarecrow?” I’d ask as the flyer left my hands. I wanted a reenactment. I wanted us, people who’d all played our different roles in different plays at different schools, people who hadn’t acted since and had all gone on to do different things and lead different lives, to come together and honour what at one point would have been hugely significant to us, but has since become downplayed, diluted with time.
Being Dorothy in the school play in year 6 was kinda a big deal for me, ok? I was the shyest kid in the whole school. I plucked up everything I had to go for it and audition for the lead role. I was the only person who even attempted an American accent - and I stood by it, in sheer denial of how poor it was. I remember everyone being really shocked, whispering in the really unsubtle way that kids do about how they couldn’t believe I was doing it. In a weird twist the teachers announced to us that there would be 2 Dorothy’s - me and a girl named Ruth Champion. One would be Kanzas Dorothy, and one would be land of Oz Dorothy - but we had to fight it out amongst ourselves. It was absolute torture. I was insanely shy and part of a nerdy group of girls who everyone called “the giggle gang” , I went to school everyday in a low ponytail because my mum was terrified I’d get nits. Ruth had blonde highlights, ear piercings, and always got to play Baby Spice in playground Spice Girls tributes acts - I didn’t even make the band. May I repeat, her last name was ‘Champion'. This was not a fair fight.
I know that everyone expected me to back down and let the most popular girl in school commence into the land of OZ whilst I stayed on the farm in Kanzas - but I’d literally overcome everything that was holding me back to get this role, and like hell was I gonna stick around in the depressing sepia tones of Kansas watching my life flash before my eyes with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry as the sheriff put my dog down and I worked on a farm in shoes that would never be anything like the ruby slippers I was after. I clung on, and in the end Ruth became a sort of Martyr who dramatically announced that she wanted me to have it as tears rolled down her face and troops of followers crowded round her. I remember giving her a rubber that I really really liked as an act of goodwill and thanks.
The other characters had different stories to tell. The Lion, who was often picked on for his long, ginger hair, finally finding a place for it. The Tinman and his crippling stage fright, how stressful he had found it - how huge it had been. And the Scarecrow - who actually went on to become an actor, the only one of us not to leave this distant piece of stardom back in the school hall against the eery soundtrack of Mr Brown or Mrs Bailey or Miss Whoever playing a questionable accompaniment on the grand piano.
I made a set and costumes. The Lion wangled a free studio. We had all hands on deck helping us out here and there. I stayed up all night fixing props the night before the shoot and performed the whole thing without a wink of shuteye. But having the opportunity to do something for the sheer hell of it, putting so much elaborate effort into something just for ...well, just ‘cos.... felt strangely liberating. It made me feel good to live in world where something like a reenactment of The Wizard of Oz made up of 4 people who played differing lead roles in their school play was allowed to happen. It’s no somewhere over the rainbow, but it’s something - and it matters.