The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe

"A majestic, magical masterpiece"

In the enchanting realm of Narnia, where winter stretches endlessly and magic reigns supreme, a timeless tale unfolds within "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis. The story begins in war-torn England, where four siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—seek refuge from the perils of World War II in the seemingly ordinary Professor's countryside mansion. Little do they know that a wardrobe in the spare room harbours a gateway to a mystical world of talking animals, mythical creatures, and an eternal winter under the sinister rule of the White Witch. As the Pevensie siblings embark on a breathtaking journey, they discover that their destinies are intricately intertwined with the fate of Narnia, leading them to encounters with the great lion Aslan, the embodiment of courage and nobility. In this classic tale of adventure, betrayal, and the enduring power of good over evil, the Pevensie children will find themselves tested in ways they could never have imagined.

As we walk into the auditorium, a lone pianist is playing war-time songs to entertain us as we take our seats.  A soldier walks onto the stage and treats us to a rendition of ‘We’ll Meet Again” thus setting the scene for this magnificent and magical masterpiece. Having really fond memories of this book and film, I had extremely high hopes for this production, and it did not disappoint.  Firstly, I would like to commend the lighting designer Jack Knowles for providing an outstanding look throughout the show and proving why great lighting really does enhance the overall experience.

We meet the four Pevensie children, Peter (Daniel Apea), Lucy (Kudzai Mangombe), Susan (Liyah Summers) and Edmund (Jerome Scott) as they leave their family home to embark on a journey to Scotland for refuge.  The performances from each Pevensie was strong, drawing us into the excitement and enchantment of the piece.  They were all able to switch from joy to despair in the darker moments, which assisted greatly in the storytelling.

Having not seen this production before, I was unaware of the musical moments scattered throughout.  The songs had a folk feel to them and with the performers also walking around the stage playing the various instruments, there were some real standout moments, especially by Jez Unwin who plays Mr Tumnus and his performance of “When There Was Spring”, it really was quite haunting and beautifully performed.

Every element of this production has been cleverly designed to take you through those infamous wardrobe doors and into Narnia.  Set designer Tom Paris has created a world of pure imagination where you felt like a child again with exquisite puppets designed by Max Humphries and with magic and illustrations by Chris Fisher.  Various moments throughout highlighted the grandeur of this production, including when the White Witch, played with such menace by Cath Whitefield, rose up seemingly into the rafters to display her power over the creatures of this mystical world.  There was something quite ethereal about this character, however combined with her loathsome side, Whitefield was able to create something very special.

During our trip into Narnia, we meet the comical Mr & Mrs Beaver played by Samuel Morgan-Grahame and Ruby Ablett respectively.  This welcome light relief brought many smiles to the faces of the children in the audience.  I must also mention the inventive costuming by Tom Paris, whose use of everyday items for the Beavers’ tails was inspired.  The many lavish fur coats used to depict the coldness of this magical land also set the scene and put a chill in the air.

Of course, this story would be nothing without the majestic lion, Aslan played by Oliver Hoare.  Firstly, the puppetry by Anu Ogunmefun, Michael Larcombe and Will Hawksworth was spectacular, moving the beast across the stage with an air of seniority and poise that was mesmerising to watch.  Hoare was able to capture the very essence of the importance of this animal in the story and with a striking look and costuming, he was every inch the king of the jungle……or Narnia in this case!

The writing by C. S. Lewis is impeccable and we have been treated to a whole Chronicle of Narnia stories.  The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe may well be the most famous of the stories and with incredible staging, lighting, costuming and performance this show proves why classic works transfer so well onto the stage.

This show was reviewed on the 22nd November 2023.  The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe runs at Birmingham REP until the 28th January 2024.  Tickets available here: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe | Birmingham Rep (birmingham-rep.co.uk)

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Photo credit: Mark Senior

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