Writer: C S Lewis
Director: Michael Fentiman
Composer: Benji Bower & Barnaby Race
Based on Original Direction/Devising: Sally Cookson
C.S Lewis’ seminal children’s story The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe has, over the years received numerous stage, TV, and film adaptations, but here in Michael Fentiman’s latest production (based on Sally Cookson’s original direction) is arguably one of the most visually stunning and striking adaptations to have been staged in recent years.
Tom Paris’ stunning set design sees a gigantic astronomical clock face take centre stage, opening and closing at various times to bring extra depth through its portholes, where cast enter, exit, and seemingly disappear thanks to Fentiman’s exquisite direction and attention to detail and Chris Fishers on-stage illusions. It takes great skill to weave a cast of this size and even more so for it to be an actor-musician production. Here the ensemble shine, this is a cast that are drilled to precision – there is a filmic quality in the atmospheric setting. Jack Knowles keeps things dark and moody through his shadowy and foreboding lighting design. A light touch is brought to the show thanks to Benji Bower and Barnaby Race’s songs and compositions – Father Christmas’ song being a particular highlight.
The cast plays multiple roles, but one shouldn’t worry about getting confused thanks to Paris’ costume designs. As they flip between humans and anthropomorphic animals, to haunting visions of death – clarity seems to be the key, not just to the costuming but also to the whole production. Superfluous elements of the story have gone and a stripped-back, abridged retelling, that keeps the theme of war firmly at the centre steams through a family-friendly two-hour running time.
Central to the story are the four Pevensie Children portrayed by Annar Duffus (Peter), Robyn Sinclair (Susan), Shaka Kalokoh (Edmund), and Karise Yansen (Lucy) all bringing something unique to the roles. Here we aren’t given your stereotypical portrayal of this literary family, instead, we are given something more modern in approach, a little more independent in thought and delivery. We meet many characters on their journey through Narnia and non is more pleasing than the friendship between Lucy and Mr. Tumnus. Tumnus is played with delightful tenderness by Jez Unwin and instantly had the audience warming to him. The comedy relief comes thanks to the pairing of Sam Buttery and Christina Tedders as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver – a military pair that takes the Pevensie children as safely through Narnia as possible.
But what of the Lion and the Witch of the title? Well, head-lining the cast is Samantha Womack as The White Witch, here she gives an understated performance that relishes in a cool and calm portrayal that bubbles with underlying menace and rage. As for the Lion, Aslan is brought to life in a joint combination of actor (played with great control by Chris Jarred) and Puppet (designed by Max Humphries). A massive and show-stealing character controlled by four cast members – that breathes life into the stunning piece of design.
There is so much to take and enjoy from this production – it’s a visual masterpiece, a masterclass in direction and totally magical in its telling of the story. You can’t help but be enchanted for the entirety of the running time – this is arguably the best festive production in the region this Christmas and potentially the best production this reviewer has seen all year!
Runs until 15 January 2022