On the face of it, there is little that Imperial Life In The Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and the musical Wicked have in common, except that they both feature a location called the Emerald City. And indeed if you remove the circumstantial fact that I read one and saw the other in the same week you would be correct. Nevertheless this coincidence of circumstance impels me to write a joint review of both with a vague suggestion that this conjunction will shine some sort of unforeseen light upon both works which makes the experience richer.

It almost certainly won’t.

Except, OK, they both have an uncomfortable tension between form and style going on. Imperial Life In The Emerald City is a great piece of reportage from Iraq’s Green Zone in 2004, the year when the US were an occupying power (as opposed to now, where they are there at the request of the Iraqi government, who would probably find it hard to say no). It documents the political errors, and abject buffonery of this occupation from with this walled palace while Baghdad was going to hell. And yet whilst this is fact, the book it most resembles is Catch 22, and in places you force a wry chuckle at the inanities, only to be reminded that THIS IS REAL. Experts sidelined for political yes men, people with no experience googling solutions*, and priorities SO out of kilter (high tech stock exchange BEFORE electricity supply). In Wicked the tension is one between source material, form and style.

Wicked purports to tell the secret origin of the Wicked Witch Of The West in the Wizard Of Oz. And I say secret origin because certainly there is a comic book parallel, in as much as this Untold Tale of the Witch is a masterful piece of retro-active continuity, or ret-con as they say in the comics world. It is also a outsider school drama and a very, very eighties musical. The sounds which come out of the orchestra have not been heard since casio keyboards started sampling and Brian May went back to astronomy. In the second half there si a full on Stevie Nicks moment for the witch, all flailing lace and smoke machine. So again the plottingis tight, there are some good songs but there is something about the naffness of some of the presentation that jars. The content doesn’t fit the form.

Actually if I were to draw a parallel, it might be that Wicked’s Oz relies as much on false news and propganda as Bush’s Iraq. But it is a different situation. Imperial Life you should read, just for a sad indictment of neo-con politics. Wicked on the other hand is a fun musical, skewing well towards the BFF school of female empowerment. But it is probably worth seeing so that you too can finally understand why a woman who can be dissolved by water keeps a bucket of water lying around.

* OK, I know its how we all do research at work too, but we’re not occupying a country.