Review: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. Nottingham Theatre Royal

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Directed by Michael Fentiman

Nottingham Theatre Royal (Touring)  

Tuesday 1st February – Saturday 5th February 2022

I still vividly remember the first time I encountered The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As a young girl, I was completely captivated by the magical world of Narnia and was subsequently bereft when Aslan was slain by the White Witch. It was a seminal book for me, and I adored everything about it: the notion of stepping through a wardrobe to a mystical kingdom; the epic battle between good and evil; the sibling rivalries of the Pevensie children and even the idea, romanticised by my eight-year-old self, of being a wartime evacuee. It is little wonder that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was voted the nation’s favourite book in 2019. Can this production of the C.S. Lewis classic tale enchant in the same way? I have high hopes that it will.

The story begins with the evacuation to Aberdeenshire of the four Pevensie children, Peter (Ammar Duffus), Susan (Robyn Sinclair), Edmund (Shaka Kalokoh) and Lucy (Karise Yansen). Sent to the home of the ‘eccentric’ Professor Kirk (Johnson Willis), they are met with a barrage of house rules from the po-faced housekeeper Mrs Macready (Samantha Womack). No running, no shouting, and kippers for breakfast at ‘7.30 sharp.’

It is Lucy who discovers the wardrobe and its portal to the wondrous world of Narnia. Here, the Pevensies discover a kingdom ruled by the White Witch (Samantha Womack) where winter has prevailed for one hundred years. Can the children defeat the White Witch and bring spring back to Narnia? I suspect you already know the answer.

In my opinion, the Pevensies are the stars of the show. Each one delivers a pitch perfect performance imbued with detail, empathy, and conviction. Their interaction with each other is also compelling. They are totally convincing as siblings with all their bickering and insecurities yet rooted together in love and unity. This is a play about both displacement and belonging and these four young actors are truly excellent at portraying this paradox.

Back in October 2020, my colleague Phil Lowe and I were lucky enough to interview Puppetry Director Toby Olié about his work on the show. Aslan is brought to life by three puppeteers, who separately control his head, body and tail, but who segue together so beautifully to invoke the character’s grandeur, authority, and gravitas.

Designed by Max Humphries, Aslan is magnificent to behold. Humphries researched ceramic art and pottery to create an Aslan that is both ‘armoured’ and ‘more ancient than the world of Narnia itself.’ (Olié) Furthermore, having Chris Jared play the humanised version of Aslan allows the audience to see differing aspects of the same being. To find out more about the use of puppetry in the production, click on the following link to our East Midlands Theatre You Tube channel.

The puppetry adds a further layer of the mythological and the supernatural to Narnia. There are costumes with ‘animal’ accents, ghoulish articulated heads on mounted backpacks, Turkish Delight cubes which come together to form a giant fluorescent monster, and let’s not forget Schrödinger, the cat. These allow our imaginations to soar, establishing in the words of Olié a ‘creative currency’ between the characters and the audience. In his words, ‘You invest yourself in this inanimate object to add your own understanding and belief to it.’ That applies, whatever your age, and is frankly marvellous.

There is so much to admire in this production. The costumes by tour designer Tom Paris are wonderful at evoking 1940’s tradition and practicality. Yet when we step into Narnia the magic is manifest. I love the Nordic-styled Santa and his antler-wearing reindeer entourage, replete with tasselled lederhosen and striped knee-high socks. Also, keep a look out for jaw-dropping costume trickery at the end of Act 1.

The use of actor-musicians is also stunning. They populate the stage to add a quality that further heightens our response. The plangent strains of the cello particularly resonate at key moments. Although not billed as a musical per se, the score by Benji Bower and Barnaby Race is integral. ‘When There Was Spring’ performed by the faun, Mr Tumnus (Jez Unwin), moves me immeasurably.

This is a show to delight adults and children alike. It touches my heart in so many ways. I could write more about the technical aspects; how clever the use of sound and lighting is or about the dazzling aerial scenes and use of illusion. I could also write about the gifted ensemble and the precision and energy with which they perform, but I would implore you to buy tickets and see all this for yourself. Lucy tells us, ‘The sun is up there, we just have to look.’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe shines bright.

Age recommendation: Suitable for 6+

Running Time – 2 hours 10 mins (including interval)

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