Sometimes, something special happens, and a piece of just pure theatrical magic comes on stage, and this adaptation by Theresa Heskins of the classic children’s tale “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” by C S Lewis is just one of those very special moments.
This review could stop with that first sentence as it pretty much sums up the whole show for me, but I suppose I had better fill out a bit more in this review of why I think that a little magic really came alive tonight.
The original book is one of those stories that, although not a huge seller in its first print run, quickly went on to become a huge seller in subsequent printings and a favourite of several generations of adults and children (with of course the other Narnia Chronicles). So much has been written about this and its companion books over the years (including their religious overtones) that I am making no attempt to add to that here and just reviewing this adaptation in its own right.
We start with a wonderful scene as we are introduced to our four children – Edmund (Cristian Ortega), Lucy (Claire-Marie Seddon), Peter (James Rottger) and Susan (Charlotte Miranda Smith) as they are on a railway platform saying their goodbyes to their parents as they are about to board a train to be evacuated from a wartime city to the safety of a large house in the country. It is right at this opening scene with its set design (Becky Minto), Lighting (Simon Wilkinson) and music/lyrics (Claire McKenzie and Scott Gilmour) that you realise that a lot of imagination and care has gone into this production.
At times, stage design and lighting can be little more than a backdrop for the actors to work against and something an audience is aware of, but pays little attention to, but not with this production. I am mentioning this before any of the cast reviews as the way the rooms in the house and the wardrobe itself transports you into Narnia is theatre design at its very best and it is as much a part of the magic on stage as anything.
Our four children all have very distinct personalities and each is played wonderfully on stage, and that ability of the actors to be those wartime children complete with the sort of personalities that children rarely seem to have anymore (people did seem to be children longer then) helps pull the audience right into their story with them. Claire-Marie Seddon as Lucy is my favourite here as she manages to maintain that open eyed look of childhood wonder throughout the whole story.
Along the way, we of course meet some of the inhabitants of Narnia. Pauline Knowles as The White Witch gets to play a wonderfully wicked character who could easily come straight out of classic fairy tales who certainly scared some of the small children around me in the audience more than a few times. Ben Onwukwe plays a double role here as The Professor and Aslan the Lion. Aslan is a wonderful part for any actor to play on stage and Ben does a remarkable job of bringing this character to life…we do meet other residents of Narnia too…and of course a Christmas guest.
This is a wonderful adaptation of a classic story, but done on two levels. For an adult audience there is an amazing piece of theatre with some great music and songs, and at the other level there is a children’s story here delighting and sometimes frightening a little (and small children do seem to love a little fright now and then) its younger audience. Of course, the adults can just enjoy the childhood magic that this production brings to life too.
For me, the true test of a show is “would you go and see it again?”, and the answer to this one is that I would happily watch this show over and over again. With “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, the Lyceum has a show that could run as long as they could give it space and one that I think could become a firm Christmas favourite if they ever wanted to make it so.
Try not to miss this one, it is just pure Christmas and theatrical magic.
Review by Tom King