I’m generally opposed to the idea of clapping when a star walks on stage before they’ve even uttered a line, but in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to make an exception for Aslan.
In Rupert Goold and Michael Fentiman’s visually stunning new production, by the time the glorious puppet portraying the great lion is revealed, much of the audience seem to be whipped up into a state of hysteria about the prospect of meeting him. As Aslan runs on stage, voiced by the perfect storyteller tones of David Suchet, it’s just one of many tricks in the family production that doesn’t disappoint.
Staging such a well-loved story as the famous tale of four children and their adventures in Narnia must be a daunting task. But with the help of the Threesixty theatre – essentially a huge tent with 360 degree screens setting the backdrop with constantly changing videos – Goold and Fentiman have created an immersive experience full of magic and technological wizardry.
From the moment Lucy arrives in Narnia the magic begins as we are plunged into the depths of winter, with snow falling around us. Actors dressed as trees right out of the pages of old fashioned fairy tales walk on stilts, peering ominously over Lucy’s shoulder as she meets the prancing, mischievous and intriguingly sinister Mr Tumnus.
While there is plenty of light and fun in the production – mainly from a cast of animals including the enjoyably silly Mr and Mrs Beaver – the production never shies away from the darker side of the story, and, while it shouldn’t put parents off taking younger children, it does the story justice with a host of frightening characters.
Sally Dexter as the White Witch is obviously the worst contender, playing the role as half temptress, half demon, riding on a sleigh pulled by animals who shriek in pain. But Miltos Yerolemou as the red-faced Ginarbrikk redresses the balance with his hilarious and impressive physical performance, playing the role as more of an overgrown moaning garden gnome than a wicked side kick.
The wardrobe takes, quite literally, centre stage; a seemingly heavy oak structure that disappears into the stage as the children take flight, again, quite literally, amongst the fur coats that soar into the sky with them.
For all the illusions, flying and exciting fighting scenes, it is the design that really steals the show. Tom Scutt’s costumes transform the cast into a believable host of forest animals, while his puppets seem to breathe with life. Rebecca Benson also shines as the heroine Lucy, perfectly portraying both the pain and humour that comes with being the youngest sibling.
While the production might occasionally veer towards visual overload, in a world where television rules, this might just be the perfect step into the world of theatre for a new generation waiting to discover C.S. Lewis’ timeless story.