This latest reincarnation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe explodes with delight, wonder and some truly breathtaking magic which holds its cross-generational audience enrapt for its entire course. From the first moment of a single pianist playing songs from the war through to the final thrilling anthemic chorus (via a plethora of engaging compositions variously described as “crisp beats” or “thrumming cello” by the ever attentive surtitles) Beni Bower and Barnaby Race’s music provides the aural glue holding together this magnificent edifice of a show. A packed theatre was held spellbound throughout.
Various previous iterations for stage, television and film of CS Lewis’s iconic children’s book have struggled which it’s Church of England subtext but here we see a more secular and clean tale shorn of its proselytising told by a vast cast of diverse, triple threat players all deploying pitch perfect performances with more humour than is usually associated with this very earnest book. David Birrell as the Professor, Ruby Aslett and Samuel Morgan-Grahame as the Beavers all give us engaging characters proving the moral fulcrum of the play while Jez Unwin’s ethereal faun, Mr. Tumnus is magical and beguiling. The Pevensie children are brilliantly played by Daniel Apea, Kudzu Mangombe, Jerome Scott and Liyah Summers as a uniform unit of well-disciplined children who slowly modulate throughout the play and find their own individual personalities and strengths.
There also some superb puppetry from the tiny Schrödinger the cat to the massive, dominating Alsan (played human form by simmering Oliver Hoare) who faces the unsettling evil Cath Whitefield as the White witch. All blended perfectly in Michael Fentiman’s regeneration of Sally Cookson’s original production which was originally longer, but with half hour trimmed off it gains pace and rhythm and hits all the familiar iconic moments without dwelling too long. Jack Knowles’ evocative and moody lighting, Tom Paris’s ravishing costume and set (which has a whiff of the observatory at Jaipur) and Tom Marshall’s crystal sound all embellish and complete the package.
It was a truly enthralling evening and one of which the Rep should be justly proud. It’s so rare to see a packed audience of mixed ages simultaneously entranced and engaged with a piece of theatre which is not panto. It is an intelligent piece of family theatre which understands and respects its audience leaving us uplifted and exhilarated reminding us “we were all children once…”
Reviewer: Peter Kinnock
Reviewed: 17th November 2023
North West End UK Rating:
Playing until 28th January 2024, https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/