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Wizard of Oz cast members put smiles on faces

A company of amateur dramatics stars visited the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle to brighten up

Cast members of The Wizard of Oz visited the Freeman Hospital's children's heart ward
Cast members of The Wizard of Oz visited the Freeman Hospital's children's heart ward

A deputation from the land of the yellow brick road brought smiles to the faces of young patients in a North East hospital.

It isn’t every day you get to meet a tin man or a scarecrow but that day dawned last week for the youngsters undergoing treatment on the children’s heart unit at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle.

They met cast members – in full costume – who will tread the boards in June in The Wizard of Oz, the latest production from one of the region’s longest-serving ‘am dram’ companies.

Best known as West End Operatic Society, the company is to perform this production under the name West End Musical Theatre Company.

It will mark the 75th anniversary of the famous MGM film starring Judy Garland and based on the book by L Frank Baum, published in 1900.

One cast member, Alex Easten, who plays Tin Man in the show, has seen the film lots of times and was thrilled to land a juicy role after previously appearing in Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical and Summer Holiday with the same company.

He was also moved by the trip to the hospital. “It was really lovely to see all the kids and quite a profound thing too,” he said.

“I’d never done anything like that before and it made me think that these were just little kids who had done no harm to anyone.

“I was really touched by the parents too. They were all coming up and saying how grateful they were that we could come in. I think that was what really hit me.”

Alex, who is 23 and lives in Wideopen, got into amateur dramatics after landing a part in a production of Les Miserables at Whitley Bay Playhouse when he was just 13.

“I feel I’ve climbed a ladder since then, performing in youth theatre and now in one of the best amateur companies in the North East,” he said.

“One of the best things about this company is that it’s so friendly. My best friend, Michael, was also in Summer Holiday and I met my girlfriend, Olivia, in the company.”

Olivia Bailes, an accomplished ballet dancer, also has a part in The Wizard of Oz.

Alex, who is soon to start a law degree at Northumbria University, is also awaiting an operation to correct a heart condition called atrial fibrillation which first came to light last year when he was having a medical before applying to renew his pilot’s licence.

He says he hasn’t been unduly troubled by the condition, but notices it takes him a while to recover if he is startled by, for instance, a car door slamming.

“I feel I have had a drop in fitness, but that might be because I had surgery on my foot before Christmas and had to spend some time in a wheelchair,” said Alex.

It helped him to empathise with the young patients on the hospital ward. But he wasn’t the only one with recent hospital experience.

Stephanie Noutch (who shares the role of Dorothy with Hannah Elliot) had to go into Acident & Emergency for an X-ray on an injured hand just before the Freeman visit and Jonathan Cash (Lion) missed out because his baby son was rushed to hospital as an emergency.

In the end Dorothy made the photo-shoot, albeit with a badly bruised finger, and fellow cast member Mark Armstrong donned the Lion suit for the day.

According to company publicist Dorothy Coleman, all are now fit, well and ready to go. Word from the children’s heart unit was that the visit worked a treat, spreading happiness among patients and staff.

The Wizard of Oz will be performed at Northern Stage, Newcastle, from June 24-28. Box office: 0191 230 5151.

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