“Fantastical adventure and heart”
Allegory or not, “It’s [still] a magic wardrobe. There’s a wood inside it, and it’s snowing, and there’s a faun and a witch and it’s called Narnia. Come and see.”
And enchanting it certainly is. This 2009 adaptation follows the adventures of four WWII evacuees as they travel through the wardrobe and discover the mysterious, wintry world of Narnia, encountering everything from witches to talking lions, to Father Christmas. C S Lewis’ wondrous story is expertly captured on the Lyceum stage by director Andrew Panton, and is an absolute triumph of a Christmas show.
The one thing that is immediately evident is how polished a production this is. Each scene change is almost like an smooth apparition; as if in some transitory dream, the audience move from one moment to the next without really knowing how they got there, and it’s wonderful. As the oak-panelled set opens out to reveal Narnia for the first time, one cannot help but gasp – with the younger audience – at the intricate display on stage: snow falls and coats the floor in a sparkling white blanket; tall icy trees seem to go on forever and that iconic lamp post glows in the shadows, waiting patiently for Mr Tumnus to appear. The impressive set is further complimented by sumptuous costume design, particularly in that of the animals. Mr and Mrs Beaver and Aslan the Lion are brought to life not only through their physicality but also through that wardrobe, but literally this time.
Stunning set and faithful costume aside, it is the strength of the cast that bring the real magic to this production. Special commendation must go to James Rottger, Charlotte Miranda Smith, Christian Ortega and Claire-Marie Sneddon, playing children Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy, respectively. As an audience member, there is often an underlying fear when watching adult actors in child roles as, if poorly performed, it can often remove you from the story. Yet this troupe executes their performances with such a warm and honest vulnerability that it is impossible not to be drawn into their adventure.
This childlike wondering proves all the more effective through the addition of song to the narrative. While some numbers do feel unnecessary, they do give the show another dimension of fantastical adventure and heart. After defeating the Witch, and the cast start singing the words, “You can’t know, but you can believe”, the spellworking in the theatre is almost palpable, and it is hard to suppress the urge to wave back at Aslan and the faun as they bid their farewell to their audience.
As stage magic goes, cutting the mustard might be up there as tricky; and evil White Witch (Pauline Knowles) has trouble living the part that is forever Tilda Swinton’s. A chilling performance works for her at times but it is often ambushed by pantomime warmth and is limited by the reach and power of the virtuous characters.
However, this is holy Advent time and this is a lovely production of a miraculous story that will delight the expectations of the children and grown-ups who come to see it.
Reviewer: Rachel Cram (Seen 4 December)
Go to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Lyceum.
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