Put quite simply, this new production of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, at the outset of its UK tour and currently residing at Curve Leicester, is a transporting, magically staged, spectacular of a show. The inventive set and costume design are a delight to the eye. The play’s wondrously engaging mix of actor-musicianship and puppetry combined thrill one’s frequently stirring heart and mind. This rapt reviewer loved it and his inner child did too. That much is very clear and neither of us were offered any Turkish delight sweets by the White Witch to write that. But only because Edmund Pevensie had already eaten them all.
The story, as if you didn’t know, is about four sibling evacuees, Lucy, Susan, Edmund and Peter Pevensie. They are sent to Scotland to escape the bombing during the time of World War 2 and they further experience unexpected adventures in the fantastical winter-locked land of Narnia via a fur coat filled wardrobe. This new touring version is based on Sally Cookson’s original production at the Bridge Theatre and Leeds Playhouse. Even so, with Michael Fentiman’s brave and sterling direction, Tom Paris’s bewitchingly sorcerous tour set and his cleverly mixed style costume design bringing together the two worlds of Narnia and World War 2 England, the show does the impossible – it improves upon theatre genius. The puppetry aspects are a revelation and the all roaring, all majestic vision of the giant Aslan puppet and Chris Jared’s human personification are magnificent. The much smaller puppet for Schrödinger the cat belonging to Professor Kirk (Johnson Willis) is universally loved with tonight’s audience.
Here comes the science bit: Schrödinger’s cat paradox or thought experiment was developed by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. It relates to an interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects. In his theoretical experiment, based on superposition, Schrödinger ponders the nature of an onlooker’s suppositions’ about whether there is a possibility of a cat, enclosed in a box with poison and noxious gas, could be both alive and dead at the same time. This is echoed in Susan’s book educated knowledge of this and smartly relates to the story when Jadis the evil White Witch triumphantly shouts “The CAT is dead!” after slaughtering Aslan. But is he dead?
There is oodles to delight any open-minded audience member in this captivating version of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe that employs some spectacular flying scenes and magical effects. The whole actor-muso cast work tirelessly to bring the story to life, including music and song, in the most inventive ways possible. Never has two hours of stage traffic gone by with such mesmerising story-telling. This show is a pure example of ‘must see’ theatre.
It is a fairly large cast with some doubling and tripling of characters happening throughout. Samantha Womack is perfectly sinister as the charmingly callous Jadis the White Witch and if you didn’t read your programme you would never guess that she also plays the nasty tricycle riding Mrs Macready, house-keeper to the friendly and slightly mysterious Professor Kirk (Johnson Willis). Another case of one character reflecting the characteristics of another in the polar opposite worlds of fantasy and reality.
The Pevensie children, Lucy(Karise Jansen), Peter (Ammar Duffus), Susan (Robyn Sinclair), and Edmund (Shaka Kalokoh) are very well cast and portray their various vulnerabilities, sibling rivalries and strengths to perfection. Any lover of the books would love the way they bring to children to life in this touring production.
There are many brilliantly realised individual characters in this that populate the two worlds and there are some stand out performances especially from both the hilarious Mr Beaver (Sam Buttery) and Mrs Beaver (Christina Tedders), a sensitive Mr Tumnus (Jez Unwin), a demonically vicious Maugrim (Michael Ahomka-Lindsay) and Miss Chutney (Rachel Dawson). Johnson Willis is Christmas fun personified as the bright red jolly Santa Claus or the Dutch Sintaklaas.
The subtle skills of the puppeteers, Oliver Bingham, Oliver Grant, and Shaun McCourt all add to the magical nature of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe as does the choreography work of Shannelle ‘Tali’ Fergus and the aerial directorship of Gwen Hales.
This is a big show with a big heart and it begins with a poignant solo of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ which transforms into a moving ensemble version. If I had a chance I would definitely ‘meet up again’ with this super polished gem of a proper family piece of theatre. Check out the age requirements because it can be extra scary for little ones. Get your The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe tour tickets sorted out pretty quickly for this reviewer predicts a sell out across theatre venues across the UK and maybe even Narnia’s Cair Paravel palace where you may need a special wardrobe pass to get in.