The Wizard of Oz

If you’ve ever wanted to try Scarecrow Salad at a sushi restaurant, buy a t-shirt proclaiming you as “A Friend of Dorothy” or remember that “There’s No Place Like Home” on a glittering red key ring, then the place to be this summer was London’s South Bank.

Yes folks, unless you’d been just been flattened by a small wooden house, there was no escaping the fact that The Wizard of Oz was in town.

My first childhood memory of The Wizard of Oz is watching it on TV at Christmas at my grandparents’ house and I seem to remember being quite terrified by the whole experience! In anticipation of seeing it on stage, I was almost tempted to crack open the ‘limited edition’ DVD that I bought for £5 in HMV two years ago (having been seduced by the kitsch packaging that plays the chorus of “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and lights up emerald city when you press the button)…but I resisted. Anyway I digress…

Whilst I’m a big fan of the amazing regeneration of the Royal Festival Hall (completed in 2007) this was my first time in the auditorium and I was disappointed. It had a very clinical feel somewhat akin to an aircraft hangar with seats. Perhaps I’m being unfair and it wasn’t looking its best. The RFH is after all a concert hall rather than a theatre so the space was dominated by a temporary stage (with the obligatory revolve) that had been built above the existing stage. The set was a large curved steel structure with clumps of telegraph poles either side and a video screen at first floor level flanked by torn vintage American billboard posters.

Act One was quite enjoyable if slow at times. You can’t beat a stage full of cute kids singing their munchkin hearts out and Toto was a true professional. The orchestra played with gusto and the disney-esque angelic choral voices sent the obligatory shivers down the spine but there was something dark and menacing looming overhead. It soon became clear during the pivotal (and completely underwhelming) twister scene that the role played by the video projector was bordering on the comical.

Artist's impression of the terrifying twister graphics
Reconstruction of the terrifying twister graphics

Now given the limitations of the venue, I can completely understand why the designer put in a video screen as the centrepiece of the set. The great thing about a video screen is that it’s a blank canvas. You can put ANYTHING on there. Unfortunately that’s exactly what we got. A mish mash of childish and unimaginative graphics. Not even childish in a charming way, just really, seriously, unforgivably crap.

The wonder of the emerald city graphic
The Emerald City really was quite a sight

So as Dorothy and her friends reached the outskirts of the green shapes…sorry I mean Emerald City, we filed out to the bar for a quick top up. “Ooh look it’s Alan Rickman collecting his preordered drinks”. Sensible man and don’t his female companions look fetching in their ‘A Friend of Alan’ t-shirts.

Act Two kicked off in unseasonal panto style with the intrepid foursome entering through the audience but after that, I was in grave danger of nodding off. Like Dorothy, the production really seemed to lose its way. Clunky, drawn out and downright dull are the words that sprang to mind.

On the upside, the performances were all solid. Adam Cooper in particular was a delight to watch as the balletic Tin Man. Hilton McRae as the Scarecrow did some amazing things with straw and Gary Wilmot played the Cowardly Lion with a light touch and humour, although his campness seemed to come and go like Toto. A portly Roy Hudd (is it me or does he never seem to age?) played the great wizard with all the genial homeliness that you’d expect from a national treasure.

But ultimately the show failed to hit the mark. The lack of pace (the show was almost three hours long with interval), the misconceived graphics and overall lack of magic, energy and wonderment made me feel very much like Dorothy’s disappointment on discovering the great Wizard of Oz isn’t all that he appears.

Top marks for marketing and merchandising but a great shame that the production didn’t live up to the hype.

Apple’s Get a Mac ads are back on form

Just when it was looking like the campaign was running out of steam, there are some new Get a Mac ads that had me laughing out loud again. Apart from the great writing and performances, the thing I like most about these is the sheer audacity of it all.

There were various reports a while back that viewers empathised with the PC character more than the Mac character but looking at how Apple’s marketshare is doing, it probably doesn’t matter. The ads (and the iPhone) sure are doing the trick!

Confessions of an Ideas Junkie

A couple of weekends ago, I listened to an interesting podcast from a SXSW 2008 session entitled (wait for it…) A General Theory of Creative Relativity. Yes, a natty little title. At the end of the Q&A section, a woman in the audience spoke about how she thought the initial development of an idea is the most exciting part of the process. I smiled a smile of recognition.

The truth is, I’ve always been an ideas person. It’s something that has always come very naturally to me, sometimes too naturally. Once the tap has been opened, it’s not so much of a steady drip as a gushing geyser. And herein lies the problem – I have more ideas than I know what to do with.

In the same way that some actors say they start inhabiting their character from the shoes upwards, I have to start with a product name and very often a logo. The logo will probably go through several design interations and I will happily spend hours on researching as many aspects as I can dream up. For website ideas, possible domain names are shortlisted, availability is checked, and often domains are purchased on the spot for fear of someone else having exactly the same idea (and cruelly snatching potential success and fortune from my hands).

One week later, and all of this is a distant memory. My mind is now buzzing with the next big thing. There’s another bolt out of the blue two years later when the domain comes up for renewal. This is usually greeted with a slap on the forehead, “Oh yes, I remember that one!”, swiftly followed by “Is it REALLY two years already?”

So what’s the solution?

  • A: Stop thinking up new ideas. Unlikely.
  • B: Carry on as before with only a fraction of ideas making it to a finished product because I have neither the time or resources to take them to the next stage. Easy.
  • C: Sell or licence ideas. Challenging.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I can’t sit here writing anymore, I’ve got to start work on a fantastic idea I’ve just had. See you at

Tunnel de L’amour

At the end of last year, St Pancras International became the swanky new home of the Eurostar terminal in London after 13 years at Waterloo. Soon after the closure of the Waterloo terminal, Eurostar put up a hoarding plastered with a bunch of facts and figures on the passengers carried over the years.

I’ve been walking past this hoarding for months but only yesterday did I notice this (very Virgin Atlantic style) cheeky little figure at the bottom…

If my maths is correct, that works out at an average of one shag per hundred trains. The million dollar question is whether this figure and the one above it are somehow connected?

Man on Wire

It is 0715hrs on a foggy New York morning in August 1974. 415 metres above a waking city, a 24-year-old Frenchman steps out unannounced onto a wire strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

No, it’s not the opening line of a fictitious screenplay. What became known as ‘The Artistic Crime of the Century’ really happened and Philippe Petit’s story has now been made into a captivating documentary, Man on Wire which opens today in the UK. Last month, I saw a preview at the BFI Southbank which turned out to be an extra special occasion because the man himself was at the screening.

Man on Wire

After six years of meticulous planning and two previous wire walks at Notre Dame and Sydney Harbour Bridge under his belt, Philippe and his accomplices managed to sneak their way in to the World Trade Center building disguised as workmen. After hiding overnight, they strung a 43 metre wire between the still-unfinished towers and against all the odds the mission was completed. Not surprisingly, Philippe became an overnight celebrity.

When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.”

James Marsh’s film takes us on an engrossing and endearing journey towards this extraordinary achievement, although I would say that the distinction between reconstruction and archive footage wasn’t always clear enough for me.

Man on Wire

In an entertaining Q&A session after the film, Philippe was asked where he would like to wire walk in London. “On an incline to the London Eye” was his response and I’d certainly like to see that! He was also asked how he felt on September 11th 2001. It was a question that was bound to come up but he graciously declined to answer saying his feelings were private and he didn’t want to taint the moment in time captured by the film.

Go see the movie. It’s the triumph of one man achieving the seemingly impossible and his spirit, tenacity and guts will knock your socks off.