There can’t be many people who don’t know the story of the four Pevensie children and their adventures in Narnia, overcoming evil while learning about sacrifice and redemption. Edmund’s rescue from the thrall of the White Witch, Mr Tumnus’s bravery and Aslan’s triumphant return are some of the many key moments from the book that make it onto the stage in this vibrant adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s classic story.
Condensing a whole book into 105 minutes is not an easy task, but director Michael Fentiman and his creative team met the challenge head on. The production succeeds particularly in its incredible design, and not only visually. Set (Tom Paris), lighting (Jack Knowles) and music (Benji Bower, Barnaby Race) are beautifully layered so that the audience can clearly understand exactly where they are in the story at all times; colours and musical genres help to identify characters and locations and build an unforgettable world. The intricate details in the design and the use of everyday objects to build elements of the set, such as the use of the evacuees’ suitcases to form the carriages of the train that takes them to safety, are extremely clever, and encourage the audience to use its imagination from the moment the show starts.
However, make no mistake, this is no Disney musical world. This is Narnia, and the England that the children leave behind when they step through the wardrobe, are places of real suffering and pain; but there are plenty of lighter moments throughout the play that remind you to laugh and to have hope. A particular mention must be made of Mr and Mrs Beaver (Sam Buttery, Christina Tedders) who provide some of the best laughs during the show.
The cast of 19 (plus four swings) play nearly 40 characters between them, and in addition to their talent and boundless energy, it is a testament to the costume, wig and movement departments that each character was clearly identifiable at all times. The actors’ transformations looked seamless, although I can only imagine some of the quick changes backstage! Particularly when you add in the fact that the entire cast also play musical instruments throughout, providing an almost constant soundscape and accompanying the various songs that complement the story.
Maugrim (Michael Ahomka-Lindsay) does not have a huge amount of stage time, but I was blown away by the work that has clearly gone into developing the movement language of the character, and by the actor’s athleticism.
The White Witch, played by Samantha Womack, was certainly scary enough to quiet the three boys sat next to me, although there were just a couple of moments in which I found myself wishing that she could be somehow… bigger. Having said that, Womack really grew into her climactic moment; although I personally found the intimate moments she had with Edmund (Shaka Kalokoh) and later Aslan (Chris Jared) more powerful.
Which brings us to the big question. How on earth do you bring a giant ancient lion to the stage? Well, the answer is with a little more imagination from the audience. In this production, Aslan is portrayed magnificently in all his power and vulnerability by Jared, who embodies the human nature of an impressive puppet which is brought to life by three members of the cast (Oliver Bingham, Oliver Grant, Shaun McCourt). The combination is clever and enables all of the cast to interact with Aslan on different levels, although here again I had imagined that the puppet would have been bigger. I have always imagined Aslan towering over Peter; but this could be explained by the decision to use adults rather than children to play the Pevensies. Ammar Duffus, Robyn Sinclair, Shaka Kalokoh & Karise Yansen as Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy led the story well and have clearly settled into their sibling relationships.
This is definitely one to watch, and there are so many more elements of the production I could praise: the choreography, the magic, the songs, the powerful moment of redemption… but to discover those secrets you’ll have to see it for yourself!
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe is playing at The Lowry until 15th January. More information and tickets can be found here: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe/
Reviewer: Jo Tillotson
Reviewed: 9th December 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★
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