Whether it was the book or movie, C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe has had a significant impact on the lives of multiple generations of British children. It is an incredibly well-known story and an important piece of British culture. That being said, Michael Fentiman’s production is a recognisable retelling of the classic, if a somewhat warped interpretation, which utilises theatre tech to the fullest extent in an attempt to bring to life the magic of Narnia.
Opening with a full-cast rendition of We’ll Meet Again to contexutalise the evacuation of children during the Blitz, the Pevensie siblings - Peter (Ammar Duffus), Susan (Robyn Sinclair), Edmund (Shaka Kalokoh) and Lucy (Delainey Hayles) – are sent to live with the eccentric Professor Kirk (Johnson Willis). There they discover a wardrobe that takes them to the magical land of Narnia that is under the spell of the White Witch (Samantha Womack) making it always winter but never Christmas.
The show’s undoing is in its pacing in that it is incredibly unbalanced; the action and delivery occur too quickly and moments of gravity and tension are not given the time that is required for them to make any sort of impact. The production's only saving grace is Dan Canhum’s movement segments, for example when Lucy first goes through the wardrobe, Edmund’s Turkish Delight hallucination and the Stone Table (which despite its importance is incredibly rushed) – but the emphasis is still on the wrong parts of the story, and too much time is wasted unnecessarily and frivolously over the course of the show.
The changes made to the story and characters do not do this work any sort of service where the proper care and time has not been taken to adapt C.S. Lewis’ work properly. This production utilises every theatre technique under the sun - from puppetry to art-muso – which does create a few visually beautiful and stunning moments – but despite this fact, it still remains underwhelming. The biggest culprit of this is Rae Smith’s relatively cold and bare stage design which literally forces us to fill in the blanks ourselves. The emptiness and darkness of the stage makes it hard to find any magic or grandeur in this show.
There is something extremely grating about casting adults to play children. Lines that we would attribute to a combination of childishness and innocence come off as whiny and spoiled and themes about children being forced to fight in a war and growing up are lost, much to the detriment of this production. Despite this fact, out of the four Pevensies, Hayles is probably the most endearing, despite the unnecessary changes to the character of Lucy Pevensie, which border on character assassination. Womack does not suit the role of the White Witch at all. The White Witch may be cold, she may be expressionless, but there is no variation to Womack’s performance, no subtleties that would suggest that this is a character to fear. In fact, Womack is the least imposing and impressive presence onstage. An incredible disappointment.
Theatre is meant to transport us to another world, another reality. It is also the main point of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which notably falters before this bare minimum. This production is incredibly lackluster and empty compared to our own expectations and hopes for anything set in Narnia. A poor adaptation, all we can do is hope that it does not harm Lewis' legacy too much.