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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

31 December 2018

Winter Distillation of Delight

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by Irita Kutchmy, adapted from C.S.Lewis

Dramacube Productions at the Hampton Hill Theatre, until 23rd December

Review by Thomas Forsythe

Spiritual, magical, fantastical, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe blends everything that impinges on the imagination of a child … and of an adult. The essence of C.S.Lewis’ allegorical story distilled into a children’s musical thus not only makes an inspired choice for Dramacube’s Christmas family show, but has inspired the imaginations of the child performers to create a seasonal delight.

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Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia have had an enduring popularity since they were first published in the 1950’s, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first in the series, has the distinction of being the most common book that adults have also read as children. As an allegory for the Christian belief in redemption through the sacrifice of Christ, it has a huge resonance at Christmas, but, whatever their beliefs, Dramacube’s audience warmed to the story that was so touchingly told by the young actors.

The production seen by your reviewer was performed by the Twickenham Blue Cast, but one can easily believe that all of the ensembles of under-fourteen actors were as equally capable, committed and convincing as this team.

The black and white set, by Christine Osborne, makes economical use of the Hampton Hill stage. Simple and crisp, it has a precision suited to the wintery concept of Narnia, the land of mythical creatures that the White Witch has sequestered in snows a century deep, never to enjoy the respite of Christmas. This is the Narnia that is entered by chance through the back of an old wardrobe by each of four children, siblings evacuated from (a posh part of) wartime London to an old country house. The house, belonging to Professor Kirk, is historic enough to attract groups of visitors, who are shown around by a reluctant housekeeper, Mrs Macready, played by a suitably prickly Sejal Khadakkar. The distraction of the visitors provides the opportunity for the exploration of the fateful new surroundings in the Professor’s pile and the discovery of the mystical wardrobe.

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The transition from the urbane Professor’s mansion to the oppressed and barren Narnia is effected by Francois Langton’s lighting and the music of William Morris delivered by the spirited keyboard of Dan Turek. How wonderful it is to have live music once more in a children’s show, with the tighter cueing that this brings.

The youngest child, Lucy, is the first to discover the way into the land of Narnia. Rosa Bruce-Ball gives an attractive interpretation of the innocent Lucy, lost in wonder in a strange world. Her first encounter is with the kind-hearted Mr Tumnus, a talking (and singing) faun, who befriends Lucy. Monty Appleton pictures Tumnus as a reticent, diffident creature, but one who can trip a nice pas-de-deux with Lucy. There are quite a few well-executed and well-timed dance sequences in this production, witness K’ja Young-Thomas skilful choreography. However, Mr Tumnus suffers dearly for his kindness, with the dawn knock on the door from the White Witch’s secret police, led by Maugrim the wolf, who is played by Ashwin Natarajan-noronha with a certain predatory glee.

Edmund, the second-youngest of the siblings, the next to enter Narnia, is seduced by the White Witch and her promises of unlimited supplies of Turkish Delight. However, these are far from non-conditional and Edmund, already the black sheep of the four children, becomes their quisling, betraying them to the White Witch. Jake McGowan portrays Edmund with animated naughtiness, but streaked with spite when in the thrall of the White Witch. Daisy Allen is exceptional as the White Witch, powerful and commanding. Menacing in her blue lippy, she steps into the character and lets it rip. As always with baddies, she gets some great musical numbers too, leading in Turkish Delight and The White Witch of Narnia Rules, OK! with malevolent gusto (even showing a flash of “sleigh-rage” when a prop encumbers her preferred means of transportation). When Edmund is eventually shaken from his entrapment and filled with remorse, he asks “What shall I do?” as Jake exhibits a fine singing voice in Edmund’s Song.

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Significantly, it is the two older siblings who are the least easy to persuade about the magic of Narnia. Peter, the eldest, is a sceptical rationalist while Susan is judicious and protective of the others. Ethan O’Keeffe played Peter with authority, contrasting with Florence Gardner’s nurturing Susan. Amongst the first creatures that they meet in Narnia are the plucky Mr and Mrs Beaver, staunch friends of Mr Tumnus, who share his revulsion at the icy grip of the White Witch. Hattie Allen and Sophia Renahan, make a compelling castoral couple as the Beavers.

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The children (“sons and daughters of Eve”) are harbingers of Aslan, the Lion. Perpetual winter begins to give way to spring. They are greeted by Father Christmas, who has been excluded from Narnia by the now-waning Witch’s magic. Finn Bralow’s assured Father Christmas is accompanied by the cheeky Robin, pertly played by Leila Simpson. He brings each child a present which proves invaluable in the forthcoming battle of Good versus Evil.

At this point, an aside to mention the great costumes designed by Akshy Marayen should underline the resplendent mane for Aslan and the neat solution to Father Christmas’ beard, often a big bushy problem with child actors.

Aslan is of course the analogue for Christ in C.S.Lewis’ allegory. The Witch invokes her magical rights to slaughter Edmund for his treason against her. Aslan denies her claim, but negotiates secretly with her to lay down his own life for Edmund’s. In Dramacube’s production, the sacrifice of Aslan is truly touching and majestically played out between Daisy Allen’s Witch and Isla Holmes, who plays Aslan with a gentle confidence. The execution of Aslan was brutal and drew a gasp with the audience. (Daisy had already shown that she has a good line in slapping, and now upped the stakes!) Isla acts the resurrection of Aslan with great presence (and she has an impressive roar!).

Director Matthew Bunn has kindled an imaginative fire in Dramacube’s young company which pulls out the deep messages in the lovely parable for Christmas, but perhaps the last word should go to Professor Kirk. Harry North puts across the kindliness and the discerning insight of the Professor as he says “What do they teach children in school nowadays?” with a knowing wink to the audience.

Thomas Forsythe
December 2018

Image courtesy of AnimalSake.

Photography by Bomi Cooper Photography

 

From → Drama, Reviews

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