The CS Lewis story really does lend itself to a musical stage dramatization, and this production does it extremely well. Starting with a rendition of ‘We’ll Meet Again’, so setting the time fairly and squarely in World War II, the opening scenes move to a train station where children are being evacuated. It’s here we meet the Pevensie siblings. I’m not an actor, but I always imagine it must be rather difficult for adults to portray children on stage. But here Ammar Duffus as Peter, Shaka Kalokoh as Edmund, Robyn Sinclair and especially Delanie Hayles as Lucy Pevensie as Susan pull it off. I was surprised to read that this is Hayles professional debut. Samantha Womack is suitably cold and distant as the White Witch, whilst doubling up as housekeeper Mrs Macready, she is possibly even more alarming. Johnson Willis’ Professor Kirk is played as an over the top eccentric, something which the younger audience members certainly appreciated. The rest of the cast double up successfully as different characters, musicians, dancers, and basically anything else required of them.
It becomes obvious very early on that the music by Benji Bower and Barnaby Race, along with Shanelle Fergus’ choreography and Tom Paris’ set and costumes all add further to the show’s success.
The original songs are catchy, performed well and don’t go on for too long. In addition, the music accompanying the dancing and action reflects the changing moods and atmosphere; it is in turns tense, creepy and upbeat. Lively dance numbers have hints of Irish and country dance moves, but the best of the set piece dances has to be Sinterklass and his reindeer in the second half. It left me giggling for ages afterwards. Costumes evoke the 1930s and 40s, not just on the humans but the woodland creatures inhabiting Narnia. Jadis, aka the White Witch, has some fabulous outfits as you’d expect, her familiars being suitably scary with some terrifying masks.
Character movements around the stage is smooth, the seamless transitions adding to the action without being intrusive or distracting. An early bout of Pevensie family fisticuffs is realistically scrappy and untidy, unlike some later sword fights which appeared just a little stilted – but that’s a minor niggle, it’s a family show after all. Having said that, it does get quite dark. There is talk of war and death, and a couple of characters are killed, although (spoiler alert) they come to life again. At one point the White Witch is even flourishing a large bloody dagger.
There are some disappearing and sleight of hand tricks which do get a little lost from where I was sitting, these would probably work better in a smaller venue. I also found the Aslan half a puppet a bit strange, Chris Jared made up for it as Aslan’s human alter ego.
Moments of comedy are scattered throughout the two hours, acting as a foil to the more sinister moments. There are wonderful nods to WWII comedy tropes; things being said only once and the woodland animals’ resistance group. And you MUST watch out for the lone cellist who appears above the stage looking like a religious statue, complete with halo. All aspects of this production work together to make an entertaining family show.
Based on the book by: CS Lewis
Directed by: Michael Fentiman
Produced: Elliott & Harper Productions and Catherine Schreiber
Set and Costume Design by: Tom Paris
Choreography by: Shannelle ‘Tali’ Fergus
Composition by: Benji Bower and Barnaby Race
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe plays at The Gillian Lynne Theatre until 8 January. Further information and bookings can be found here.