Director: Michael Fentiman
Writer: Adam Peck (based on the novel by C.S Lewis)
A stunning return to Narnia, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe does not disappoint.
This bold re-imagining of the C.S Lewis novel utilises the theatrical space, with tricks old and new. It tells the story of World War Two evacuees, the Pevensie children (Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy). As they are bundled on a train out of London, their lives become irrevocably changed when Lucy discovers a portal into a magical world – located at the back of a wardrobe.
The children are deposited at a country house owned by Professor Kirk (Johnson Willis), and while the nature of his study is never revealed, it’s clear he considers portals, other worlds existing alongside our own, more scientific probability than fiction.
Lucy enters the snowscape of Narnia, unaware she is altering a delicate balance. Her chance meeting with a faun, Mr Tumnus (a moving performance from Jez Unwin) reveals that Narnia is enslaved by the White Witch, who has declared herself Queen. But the creatures of Narnia have reason for hope: the King of Beasts, Aslan, is on the move. The eternal winter begins to thaw.
The production’s use of stagecraft – puppetry, magic, lighting and set design – is extraordinary. The show is pure spectacle, and while clever lighting recreates the seasons, simpler devices also impress: the flight of a robin conveyed through a dancer with a scarlet ribbon is a lovely moment. The space is well used – the two worlds are seen from a child’s perspective – a clock face towers above, and when the children emerge from the wardrobe into Narnia, what lies before them feels infinite.
This is a show loaded with ambition, and for the most part, it works. The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe makes the decision to lean away from C.S Lewis’ original intention of a Christian fable, and into more secular themes. Beginning at the rail station, we are told these are “troubled times” and the assembled cast sing ‘We’ll Meet Again‘. The pandemic and the World War collide, to create a direct line through to the audience. We may not know what it is like to be a child evacuee, but isolation and uncertainty – we certainly know about that.
There are several good performances here too: the Pevensie children are particularly well cast, with Edmund (played by Shaka Kalokoh) and Lucy (Karise Yansen) evoking a complicated sibling relationship. There’s an emphasis on light and shade, with welcome comic relief from characters such as Mr Beaver (Sam Buttery). But where the brooding, glacial evil of the White Witch should take centre stage, Samantha Womack’s depiction is strangely muted. Her performance is hesitant where a self-proclaimed Queen would be bold.
What really comes across in this production is the triumph of composite parts coming together. This looks (and feels) like a well-oiled machine, but crucially there is an element of spontaneity that keeps the show fresh. There is an element of possibility in every scene, and for a young audience, there’s no better introduction to theatre.
Runs until 26 February 2022