Call it fantasy, a fictional frolic to another dimension, or possibly even a whimsical journey to the unknown? The West End production of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe is escapism at its best. A purely fictional tale that will no doubt attract die-hard fans of the 2005 Hollywood blockbuster of the same name and not forgetting the 1950 novel by C.S Lewis which bore Narnia into existence. Although the transition from page to screen and then from screen to stage can be tricky, especially with the preconceived notions from Narnia aficionados of what this magical world really means to them, however, this thoughtful production in its simple yet elegant form is an endearing piece of theatre.
It’s interesting to witness young and old theatre patrons seeing the pages from their favorite childhood book come to life or maybe it’s the hard-hitting themes that resonate throughout that hold distinct importance. We have all experienced our own version or ‘chronicles’ of Narnia in our life. If you step out of your comfort zone (or into the wardrobe which is more apt in this case!) you’ll discover wondrous places not without the usual obstacles. ‘Narnia’ lurks behind every door (or wardrobe) producing new experiences even those we at times do not wish to endure, however, to overcome our greatest fears we must open the door to our own fantastical reality. In this instance, we see Narnia through the eyes of 4 children and how they overcome all its complexities, powerful attractions, and grandeur.
The story travels with siblings Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie who have been evacuated from wartime London to a country house that provides a form of ‘shelter’ from the outside world. Little do they know that their present reality will soon represent the world they left behind as beyond the wardrobe, reveals a defying path of endurance. On their quest to discover how they can contribute to a forever wintry and unforgiving world, they have to battle at all odds with the white witch and fight off some pretty scary creatures! This is all portrayed on stage with a very uncomplicated set design and it’s interesting how everything comes together even though at times you feel disconnected.
With the world in its current state of disarray (minus an evil witch, a faun and a mystical talking lion so to speak!) and experiencing quite realistically its own interpretation of Narnia, we are presented with a dimension not dissimilar to our own. It may be all magical on stage with talking beavers, strange dystopian-like characters, a very eccentric looking Santa clause and a mix of the weird and wonderful, however, the themes of good vs evil, an unnecessary war (sounds familiar right?), and the power to overcome adversity make for a compelling 2-hour treat.
Although this enchanting production captivated audiences during the summer holidays, it’s slightly more fitting to experience Narnia in all its splendour now the chilly weather has finally hit our shores. The production with set and costume design by Tom Paris is very easy and unpretentious. With very few major embellishments to make Narnia a true winter wonderland (apart from falling snow which adds a perfect festive touch) the audience is presented with something more real and tangible to play with. It’s very simple yet effective with scenes changing with the use of blackouts, moody lighting and simplistic props throughout. If you are expecting a full-on musical, you may be disappointed as this production is essentially a play with a number of musical interludes throughout. The singing and accompanying songs come across as slightly discombobulated however It lends to the overall environment.
Puppet Designer Max Humphries has created some very interesting characters. With puppetry and mask-wearing currently in two major West-End show’s namely The Lion King and the Life of Pie it’s interesting to see how Humphries utilizes puppetry in this production.
Samantha Womack as the evil White Witch and Chris Jared as Aslan are two stand our performances not forgetting their very grand entrances each portraying good and evil so succinctly. The 4 Pevensie siblings namely Ammar Duffus (Peter), Delainey Hayles (Lucy), Robyn Sinclair (Susan), and Shaka Kalokoh (Edmund) play convincible and clean-cut roles.
The production does come across as long-winded and slow in parts however the energized siblings and all the oddball characters make up for any sluggishness. It’s charming and sensitive and makes for a wonderful theatrical experience.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is directed by Michael Fentiman and based on the original production by Sally Cookson.
It runs until the 8th of January 2023. We have tickets from £23 clicking here. And you can get up to an extra 8% off with our exclusive discount code LTR8.
Review: David Simmons Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg