Going the Distance (Lawrence Batley Theatre, online)

Theatres were in trouble over the whole of 2020, and many are still waiting for audiences to return to their pre-pandemic levels. In this co-production from the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, Oxford Playhouse, the Dukes in Lancaster, and the Watermill in Newbury, we watch a musical production of The Wizard of Oz take shape with all the creative spats and questionable choices you might expect.

Matchborough Community Theatre is a little theatre with a huge challenge, and that isn’t just finding the right dog to play Toto. As the show develops within this play, we get to peek behind the curtain and see how this disparate team make showbusiness happen.

With Matthew Kelly giving a fine showcase as the befuddled director and Stephen Fry as narrator, this has the big name pull, but its comedic timing and writing falls a little short. It isn’t the wild farcical rush you might expect from the likes of Noises Off. As the play’s writer and the director’s ex, Shobna Gulati has moments which raise a smile; while Emma MacDonald’s sweet Dorothy has a lovely voice and a definite way with a gingham apron.

Directed by Felicity Montagu, Going the Distance has a lot of potential, but there is a sense of deja vu running throughout. Is there a power-mad person threatening to derail the production? Check. Is there a crisis of sexuality in a main character? Check. Is there an eye-popping and inappropriate musical number? Check. I was half expecting a nice juicy murder too, but that was not to be.

At just seventy-five minutes, you can forgive the show’s tendency to contrivance, and there are moments which are genuinely funny. Henry Filloux-Bennett and Yasmeen Khan have taken the issue of pandemic creativity and mined it for the potential of laughter, and the show’s support of many theatres across the UK as they slowly get back on their feet is an excellent reason to purchase this stream and give these great venues a boost.

Going the Distance is available to stream until the 17 October. Book your tickets here.

Image credit: Dennis Madden and James Rees

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