The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Photo by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
Venue: Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Performance Date: 16 November 2021
Reviewer: Gemma Fincher
Star Rating: ★★★★★
There are very few shows that come along which yield an unwavering urge to award it infinite stars. Such is the case with this otherworldly production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Starting life at Leeds Playhouse, before a run at London’s Bridge Theatre, this adaptation of the CS Lewis classic is a magical and stunning piece of theatrical art.
Written in 1950, by a childless CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tells the story of four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie who are evacuated at the height of World War Two. Sent to live with the enigmatic and eccentric Professor Kirk, their boredom and discomfort soon make way for wonderment and adventure when Lucy inadvertently stumbles on the magical world of Narnia. Trapped in an eternal winter thanks to the evil White Witch (played deliciously by Samantha Womack) the Pevensie siblings must summon their courage and bravery to ensure that good prevails and summer is restored.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this piece and how to write a succinct review. It would be easy to wax lyrical about every single component part and every company member, it is just THAT good.
The casting could not be more perfect for this production, beautifully colour blind and diverse, each member of the company brings their own strengths to the piece. It’s always tricky when a show opts to cast adults as children, however, it doesn’t matter a jot here. Believable and relatable, Ammar Duffus is delightful as the brave and heroic Peter, Robyn Sinclair is a joy at the bookish, yet assertive Susan. The older siblings are complemented in their droves by Shaka Kalokoh as the easily influenced Edmund. However, it’s Karise Yansen who glues the four together as the endearing and feisty Lucy. Such is the level of Yansen’s performance, it’s astonishing to learn that this is her professional debut.
Samantha Womack is the perfect casting for the White Witch. If there is one thing that Womack does with aplomb and apparent ease, it’s play women who are inherently complex and flawed. See Ronnie Mitchell (EastEnders) and Rachel Watson (The Girl on the Train). Womack brings an icy and eery softness to the character, but don’t let that be mistaken for anything other than pure evil. There is no redeeming Jadis, she is a fully-fledged antagonist. Womack’s performance is framed beautifully by Tom Paris’ costume design, which serves to bring the White Witch to life.
Whilst this show isn’t a musical, music and sound design do feature heavily. The wider cast not only perform several roles, but many play instruments on stage. There is no orchestra pit, the performers move around the stage as part of the choreography. It’s visually quite stunning and incredibly clever. Christina Tedders, as Mrs. Beaver, is a particular highlight as she moves around the stage playing the violin. Equally charming is Jez Unwin as the kind and benevolent faun, Mr. Tumnus.
Chris Jared brings a masculine and palpable strength to Aslan, The Great Lion. Jared’s performance is framed by some beautiful puppetry courtesy of Shaun McCourt and the manifestation of the Lion is really quite something to behold.
The component parts of this piece come together to bring a genuine and quite sensational visual and auditory feast. Jack Knowles’s lighting design combined with Gareth Tucker and Ian Dickenson’s sound design makes the transitions from wardrobe to winter seamless and spectacular.
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre was made for a production of this magnitude. It’s a travesty that it isn’t blessed with more high-profile shows. It is a beautiful space, and the expansive stage encapsulates Rae Smith’s stunning set design, allowing the large cast ample room to showcase Shannelle ‘Tali’ Fergus’ gorgeous choreography.
In his programme notes, Director Michael Fentiman muses “I become bonded to the people onstage and proud of what they have managed to achieve together. They persue something that is bigger than the individual; a collective commitment to doing something excellently for the pleasure of strangers”.
This couldn’t be truer. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a truly stunning piece of theatre. It stays beautifully true to its source material and just for a moment transports us into a world where belief and imagination can overcome virtually any adversity.
This production deserves all its plaudits and a transfer back to London as soon as the wider UK audiences have had the joy of visiting Narnia with this wonderfully talented company.
Runs until: Saturday 20 November and on tour