Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Jane Leaney (Aslan's Head) Credit Simon Annand
Evacuated to a dusty country mansion the four Pevensie children discover that stepping into an old wardrobe transports them to a magical world called Narnia. In this mystical country trees wander freely, animals talk and are friends with all manner of dwarves, centaurs and fauns. But all is not well in Narnia, the land has been cast under a spell of eternal winter by the White Witch. We watch Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy join the fundamental battle between good and evil as they take on the icy enchantress and her followers, fighting to return Narnia to the peaceful forest dwellers.
Can the White Witch be vanquished? Will the Pevensie children survive to return to their own world? And will springtime finally be returned to Narnia, the sun’s rays emanating from the mane of the great lion Aslan?
C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece has been given the most magnificent tribal twist in this stunningly dramatic adaptation by director Rupert Goold. Whilst still retaining the appropriately ‘jolly hockey sticks’ quality of the period, this production has incorporated elements of ancient Nordic and Celtic myth with runic symbols adorning the mythical characters and lapses into prophetic chanting. At times this ritualistic element extends to the macabre; the wolves with their bone forelegs and undulating movements are terrifying. The costumes are wonderful, ranging from simple headscarves to represent ears to elaborate wicker squirrel tails. My favourite was undoubtedly the hedgehog with her mittens on a string. The ensemble doubles up as musicians playing fittingly pastoral music on accordions and flutes. Combining carnival puppetry with projected animation the parabolic tale is brought to glorious life as we watch statuesque Dryads stomp across the stage on stilts amidst the transforming scenery. New worlds emerge as we watch time lapsed sequences of ice crystals forming or flowers bursting into bloom projected onto the walls of the auditorium.
Sally Dexter was clearly born for the role of the White Witch. With her slow regal movements and hissing pronunciation of the word ‘human’ she is pure ethereal menace. Her two tone hair and white eyes give her a distinctly vampiric look adding a sensuously gothic edge. Aslan is a work of genius designed by Tom Scutt. A huge carnival puppet voiced by David Suchet his movements are superbly feline as he sits on his haunches and swishes his tail. The Pevensie children are all suitably sporting, and the kindly professor played by Brian Protheroe is wonderfully wise.
The narrative is condensed, moving quickly from scene to scene. Whilst this does mean omitting some of the book’s content it ensures that the child portion of the audience remains wrapt, and also adds a dynamic intensity. The extended allegory of Christian sacrifice and the struggle between good and evil is not paid specific attention to but is inherent in the telling of the story. The theatrical touches were simply stunning; from the griffin fluttering on wires to the famous wardrobe rising mystically out of the floor. Rather than overshadow Lewis’ beautiful tale, for me the theatrical elements brought the tale to life in full Technicolor.
This is spectacle at its best; delivering the audience into an impossible and enchanting world in the way that only theatre can. Lewis’ Narnia pulses on the rotating stage, a land teaming with mystical creatures, heroes and villains and the prevailing spirit of righteousness. This is a magical explosion of family fun. It is time to step into the wardrobe and see what lies in wait for you on the other side.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is at the ThreeSixty theatre in Kensington Gardens until September 9, 2012.