The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe Bridge Theatre Photo: Brinkhoff Moegenburg
Venue: Bridge Theatre, London
Performance Date: 28 January 2020
Star Rating: ★★★★★
Reviewer: Alexia Anderson
“The London Theatre Company by special arrangement with Elliott & Harper Productions and Catherine Schreiber, presents the much-celebrated Leeds Playhouse production of The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe”.
There are some literary classics that go down in history, and this is certainly one of them. We all have our own memories of C.S. Lewis’ most well-known and widely-read book, whether it’s relating to the personality of one of the protagonists, enjoying the imagination-inducing, adjective-luscious text or even just focusing on or dreaming of those terribly famous Turkish delights (oh dear, Edmund), There are so many levels on which to explore this whirlwind narrative and this jaw-dropping, warming production certainly does this.
With director Sally Cookson’s successful career in theatre, her stage production of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe is bound to be a crowd-pleaser. Her understanding and use of physical theatre, as well as her talent at bringing magic to life, are certainly not neglected in this sensational piece of art. No stranger to magical kingdoms (Cookson’s Peter Pan at the National Theatre gained great critical acclaim), her ability to take an audience into another world is spectacular. If Wicked, The Lion King and a splash of psychedelic panto were to have a beautiful love-child, this would be it.
Joining some of the most famous literary children of all time, Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter hold our hands as they take us with them on their journey through the enchanted realm of Narnia.
War-time Britain makes for a bleak setting and act one sets this scene perfectly. With an atmospheric start, tackling the themes of evacuation, open-mindedness, and loyalty, supported by wonderfully clever lighting design, it’s strong from the off. Whilst immersive theatre can sometimes feel a little ‘amateurish’, this thankfully falls very far from this category. The suggested activity made by puppeteers instantly sparks an imagination worthy of a child’s and, as quick as a strobe flash, you’re there with them. That famous wardrobe brings a world of excitement and warmth, which is felt by adults and children alike.
To do such a literary great justice, a strong cast is essential, and the jackpot has certainly been hit for this production. With no ‘weak link’, all involved in casting have most definitely excelled themselves. The way in which the cast works together is certainly helped by the movement direction of choreographer Dan Canham, but the rapport between the performers is notable.
Adult actors playing children can sometimes easily fall into a typical, over-exaggerated, stereotypical imagining. The subtlety in which this is played by, arguably, one of the strongest casts in recent theatre, is masterful. Femi Akinfolarin effortlessly plays a brave and noble Peter. He exhumes charisma and presence and he puts his performing arts background and training to wonderful use throughout. John Leader as Edmund, Keziah Joseph as Lucy and Shalisha James-Davis also live the parts they play. They make for incredibly talented and believable leads.
There are some award-worthy, standout performances, namely from Stuart Neal as Mr. Tumnus and seasoned television sensation Beverly Rudd as Mrs. Beaver, who can seamlessly turn her hand to any style, accent, and character known to man. Supported by an equally strong ensemble, performing alongside genius musical underscoring lead by composer and musical director Benji Bower, this phenomenal piece of theatre is mind-blowing.
Tony and Olivier Award-winning designer Rae Smith, alongside Sally Cookson become a creative dream team. The use of physical theatre and immersive technique with design like no other, make for a production which you can totally invest in, both aesthetically and emotionally. It is an absolute winner, from start to finish.
Showcasing dance, movement and vocal skills, this cast runs a masterclass in theatrical performance. If you want to totally immerse yourself into a magical realm, with superb set design and an array of theatrical techniques to enjoy, then this production will not disappoint. As an overheard audience member gushed, “I forgot we were in London for about two hours”. Escapism at its best.
Flawless productions such as this are hard to come by. Thankfully the upcoming tour will enable this wonderful theatrical showcase to continue to delight audiences across the UK and Ireland.
Runs at The Bridge until: Sunday 2 February 2020
The tour will open in Aylesbury on 20 November 2020 before visiting Cardiff, Salford, Dublin, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Glasgow and finally Nottingham in March 2021.
The production will also be The Lowry’s main Christmas show, running in Salford from 9 December 2020 to 23 January 2021.