Writer: C S Lewis
Director: Michael Fentiman
Composer: Benji Bower & Barnaby Race
Based on Original Direction/Devising: Sally Cookson
It has been winter for one hundred years, but now, Spring is returning. And while you may be forgiven with mistaking this land of tundra and lamplight for the brisk Scottish night, Edinburgh welcomes an entirely different realm of magic with The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. C. S. Lewis’s story of the Pevensie children Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, evacuees from London who find more than they bargain for with their new host, Professor Kirk. Eccentric, curious, and all the while possessing an edge of something hidden – the four children will embark on a journey of many a lifetime.
Numerous adaptations, re-visits, and revivals, popular since its original publishing in 1950, The Chronicles of Narnia benefits from its staunch foundations in antiquity – never succumbing to a modernisation (yet…). The story weaves religious connotations, allegory, and suspension of belief all layer into the building blocks for a well-constructed and visually engaging production of family, hope and sacrifice.
Arriving at the train station, a scattered stage seems barren for a world of wonder, but as the suitcases of travellers erupt in light, a train emerges, and the journey begins. The entire quartet does a touching and measured job of maintaining a child-like naivety with the choices and growth one would expect; Robyn Sinclair (Susan) and Karise Yansen (Lucy) conjuring a genuine sense of emotional investment, while Shaka Kalokoh makes the perfect folly to the White Witch’s scheme.
Elements of violence and fright are understandably scaled back in, though curiously the production does lean into a more macabre and stylized angle – an elevated and respectful attitude towards the younger audiences and their capabilities with harsher imagery. Perhaps nowhere more prevalent than Jadis, The White Witch in the second act. Starting strong, as a being of the old world: reserved and confident, Samantha Womack holds the self-proclaimed Queen of Narnia with an understated decorum that makes for a thunderous impact when she does lose her temper. Claims of a drab performance are unceremoniously ill-fitting, but there is a distinct sense that direction scaled back the more intense moments of war or sacrifice for younger audiences, Womack taking the brunt of these decisions and manipulating them to the audience.
Where this loss of intimidation may occur, it is made up for with the remainder of other noteworthy performances – from the resoundingly unnerving captain of the Secret Police Michael Ahomka-Lindsay’s Maurgrim to the ensemble creations of masked beasts, giants, and lich. Drenching the stage in a vision of nightmare, thankfully the charm and bouncing nature of Sam Buttery and Christina Tedders’ Mr & Mrs Beaver maintains light-hearted humour before the inevitable dawning light of Aslan; staged both as a large-scale puppet and live performer from Chris Jared, the craft and design within the regal Lion a vision, magnified by the surrounding space of the stage.
Diligently undertaking various critter roles, from great to small, insignificant to magnificent, the entire cast largely doubles with spot roles and cameos. The spectacle of this production, its on-stage sorcery and charm quickly become a significantly adept piece to introduce younger audiences to the bewitchment of theatre. The methodical and hands-on approach to stage design captures a timelessness, trapping the world of Narnia (and Aberdeenshire) in this pocket of sepia-tinted glory.
And the visually arresting pleasantries extend beyond Tom Paris’ adaptation from Rae Smith’s original set design. The kinetics of movement, a flowing pace through the show is all but perfected by the consistent surprises to be sourced with Shanelle ‘Tali’ Fergus’ choreography, resolutely infusing momentum into even the shortest snippets – aiding in the spacious interludes between Benjo Bower and Barnaby Race’s musical numbers.
Magnificently impressive in its artistry and design, Michael Fentiman’s venture through the Wardrobe toys with an avant-garde sense of style – capturing imagination in a bottle, envisioning a Narnia we are all familiar with, and yet are visiting for the first time. Dreams are harder to come by these days, but this is nothing short of a fantastical adventure in stage sorcery.
Runs until 12 February 2022 | Image: Brinkhoff Moegenburg