22 February 2022
In terms of imagination, C.S. Lewis’s was wonderful and weird and thrilling. It is no surprise that he was a good friend of the similarly creative J.R.R. Tolkein. Effective transference of their works has taken place on film and television but to see it come to life on stage is a very different process. The Leeds Playhouse production of ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ originally created and directed by Sally Cookson achieves more than you could ever have thought possible.
The original 1950 novel has been a favourite of children and adults for over 70 years (despite a rather muted reception on publication) and the fact that it can be enjoyed on so many levels underlies its popularity. The story of the Pevensie children, evacuated to a strange house during World War Two, transports the reader into the world of Narnia where good and evil vie for power amongst a population of animals and rather stranger creatures. The allegorical significance of much of the story is something which can be appreciated and debated with age, but for the young person, the adventure story is the thing.
From the train at the start, through to the wardrobe and lion, this is a production of ingenuity and flair. The multi-tasking cast work their collective socks off as they don numerous costumes, whilst playing musical instruments, acting, singing and dancing – it is a feast. Special effects – characters suddenly appearing and disappearing especially – are executed with aplomb as the audience is completely enveloped into Narnia.
As the four Pevensie heroes, Ammar Duffus, Shaka Falokoh, Robyn Sinclair and Karise Yansen are wonderful – totally believable as siblings. Johnson Willis imbues Professor Kirk with a mystery of his own – an all-knowing, seeing one and Jez Unwin is utterly delightful as the meek and kindly Mr Tumnus. Christina Tedders and Sam Buttery have enormous fun as Mr and Mrs Beaver and there is lovely puppet work from Oliver Grant as Schrodinger, the cat. Samantha Womack clearly relishes getting her teeth into the White Witch and her elevation at the end of Act One is spectacular. Aslan comes in two forms – as a splendidly realised puppet and as an actor in costume – I was unsure of the combination at first, but it grew on me.
Music is played throughout, cleverly evoking the folksy nature of the setting of the story with nods to Celtic rhythms and melodies. The songs are beautifully presented and the choreography is totally in keeping with the piece – again, with an eye on traditional dance.
Lighting and sound are absolutely first class and the set and the costume designs are full of the imagination that you want to see from an adaptation of this novel. Michael Fentiman directs with care, precision and a potent love for the source material.
While the first Act may be a little wordy at times and slightly outstay its welcome, Act Two, may suffer from the reverse in trying to pack too much into it – but these are small quibbles about a show which held the attention of a packed house – with very large number of entranced children – the silence from everyone at a pivotal moment near the end was deafening.
While the undertones of morality and Christianity are undeniably present, they are never preached but the audience are left with thoughts, such as, ‘the mind is like a parachute, it only works when it is open.’
This is superlative theatre – the imagination of the original author is put in front of the audience in the most wonderfully dynamic and absorbing fashion. Productions of anything don’t get much better than this.
CAST & CREATIVES
WHITE WITCH – SAMANTHA WOMACK
MAUGRIM – MICHAEL AHOMKA-LINDSAY
MARCH HARE – OLIVER BINGHAM
MR POPE – SCOTT BROOKS
MR BEAVER – SAM BUTTERY
MISS CHUTNEY – RACHEL DAWSON
PETER PEVENSIE – AMMAR DUFFUS
SCHRODINGER – OLIVER GRANT
MR MARSDEN – MATTHEW JAMES HINCHCLIFFE
ASLAN – CHRIS JARED
EDMUND PEVENSIE – SHAKA KALOKOH
MR GRANVILLE – SHAUN MCCOURT
MISS GUMLEY-WARMLEY – KATE PARR
SUSAN PEVENSIE – ROBYN SINCLAIR
MRS BEAVER – CHRISTINA TEDDERS
MR TUMNUS – JEZ UNWIN
PROFESSOR KIRK – JOHNSON WILLIS
MRS PEVENSIE – GRACE WYLDE
LUCY PEVENSIE – KARISE YANSEN
ENSEMBLE – EMMA BARCLAY, TASH HOLWAY, CALUM MCELROY, SOPHIE NAGLIK, BRAD VEITCH
DIRECTOR – MICHAEL FENTIMAN
SET & COSTUME DESIGN – TOM PARIS
COMPOSITION – BENJI BOWER & BARNABY RACE
LIGHTING DESIGN – JACK KNOWLES
SOUND DESIGN – GARETH TUCKER & IAN DICKINSON
CHOREOGRAPHER – SHANNELLE ‘TALI’ FERGUS
MOVEMENT CONSULTANT – DAN CANHAM
PUPPETRY DIRECTOR – MAX HUMPHRIES
PUPPETRY DESIGNER – GWEN HALES
ILLUSIONS & MAGIC SUPERVISOR – CHRIS FISHER