There’s a magic in children’s classics that can’t be explained by the story alone. The wise, Professor Kirk reminds us of this towards the end of The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe on stage when he talks about a certain look we recognise in those who know Narnia. That magical spark is the child in all of us. And there’s no better way to set it alight than bringing together generations who’ve grown up loving a tale and telling it again alongside those hearing it for the first time.
Even in our fast-paced digital world of high-tech video games, virtual reality and ever improving computer generated imagery, C.S. Lewis’ 1950’s story about a fantasy world to be found behind the fur coats in an old wardrobe is still a rollercoaster for our imagination.
In this world animals talk, and children are listened to with great authority. And yes, it might have been winter here for the past 100 years, but that only makes the story more appealing as a Christmas show, made all the more festive by a visit from Santa.
Bringing this ice kingdom and its inhabitants to the stage displays a childlike ambition, in so far as many would have thought it impossible. Here, Michael Fentiman uses puppetry, live music, and theatrical special effects to capture the emotion of the story. And even though the whole novel can’t be told in a two-hour play, it feels true to the book because all the essentials are there.
Fentiman creates a fast-moving, world that draws us in and never lets up – whether that’s war-time England where the children are evacuees or the time-travelling parallel universe of Narnia.
Samantha Womack, well known for her roles in Game On and EastEnders, is perfectly-pitched as the icy White Witch, with no hint of pantomime in her performance. The age guidance for the performance is 6-plus, and it clearly isn’t for very young children being a sophisticated production that doesn’t skirt around the book’s darker side. Fans of Wicked will recognise some of the staging when the Witch takes flight, and it is equally as breath-taking as the Defying Gravity scene.
The creation of Aslan too gives nods to popular culture, with actor Chris Jaren donning Game of Thrones styles fur and wind-swept look. His performance brings humanity to the magnificent lion puppet and the two play well together igniting both emotion and imagination. This is the third Aslan puppet to be used since the original Leeds Playhouse Production in 2017 and the original 40kg lion puppet can be seen suspended from the ceiling in the Lowry foyer.
The music, played live on stage by a cast of actor musicians, is engrossing and adds to both the drama and the joy. There are also some terrifically choreographed fight scenes that have youngsters and adults alike on the edge of their seats.
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe on stage is a stunning theatrical achievement that looks, sounds, and feels fantastic. It’s everything you could wish for in a show – it’s magic.