Tuesday, February 7

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – New Wimbledon Theatre

C.S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe absolutely mesmerised me as a young child – and it’s a fixation that has followed me into adult life. Narnia has always held a special kind of magic for me. Notwithstanding the troubling alternative readings of C.S Lewis’s works, the concept of a door to another world full of talking beasts, dwarves and other mythical creatures, only accessible to children who are able to become national heroes, was just too seductive. Add some Christmassy undertones, some genuinely scary creatures and storylines and a feel-good character arch or two and it’s a pretty perfect story.

It’s also a story that’s been told many, many times – from the 1988 BBC dramatization (which I tracked down on DVD in later years), listening to the full Chronicles of Narnia on cassette tape (!) and then reading (and re-reading) the books myself, through to the more recent blockbuster films and countless stage adaptations, it does feel like a challenge to bring something fresh to the piece.  

I say all this because I wouldn’t have said that this adaptation felt especially fresh, but I don’t say that as a criticism. Rather, it felt like it featured the right levels of magic, mystery, horror, humour and fantasy to bring Narnia to life on stage. It uses carefully choreographed puppetry, dance and movement – including at times a moving orchestra – which is all neatly executed although at times feels overly chaotic on a relatively small stage. The set changes are fluid but often accompanied by short dance routines that don’t always feel necessary; otherwise the use of space and in particular the creation of lit caverns and hidey holes in the back of the stage brought an added layer of mystique and atmosphere. The production around the White Witch (Samantha Womack) is quite spellbinding, particularly given the relatively small space, and lifts the production to a higher level (in some instances literally). Womack as the Witch is enthralling – as cruel and seductive as you’d want her to be, surrounded by an army of evil-doers who reminded me of the Wheelers from the film Return to Oz, about which I occasionally still have nightmares. The staging of the stone table sacrifice is brilliantly done and one of the stronger elements of the production. Similarly, the puppet Aslan is a joy to watch, along with his human counterpart (Chris Jared), and I think most of the audience has a special place in their hearts for Schrodinger the cat (Oliver Grant). The young actors portraying the four Pevensie children all seem very comfortable in their roles, injecting the right amounts of child-like wonder and thrall in the performance without making it “hammy” or saccharine.

Overall, this is an enjoyable telling of a classic story, well directed and produced, with enough magic in it to make it a pretty exciting evening at the theatre. Fans of Narnia and younger audiences in particular should make an effort to see it before the run finishes on Saturday. https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe/new-wimbledon-theatre/

Reviewer: Zoё Meeres

Reviewed: 12th April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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