Review: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Does everyone have their evacuation slips? You’ll need them as we have a long journey ahead. Hop on board a steam train that travels along a winding track (created by the very cast themselves) and prepare for your stay in something much more magical and tantalising than country air.

A timeless tale of four siblings (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) who stumble across another world in the back of a dusty old wardrobe filled with a whole wealth of mystical creatures and deep prophecy, Sally Cookson brings C. S. Lewis’ children’s classic The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to life as the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre is turned into a realm of deep magic and crisp white snow. A rich mix of aerial display, physical theatre and audience participation transport us through a bunch of forgotten fur coats and into the wintery depths of Narnia.

And this certainly is a charming wonderland. Rae Smith’s design is detailed yet playful and malleable. Everything from the costume to the puppetry gives an air of shabby chic with a degree of upcycled charm, the latter of which is particularly apparent in the animal puppets used to represent Aslan and Schrodinger, the Professor’s cat. The huge wardrobe door brings a sense of awe with every mystic turn and as Lucy pushes her way through the ensemble of fur coats, every sway and flicker adds to the excitement of every step of her journey – an element that is easily lost in film and TV adaptations. And then, it snows. Endless long pieces of white fabric pour from above forming blustering white pools on stage and white paper flecks fall around the stage. Lucy is completely taken by this and so are we. And given that we are currently surrounding by snow warnings up North, this is more than enough to warm our hearts this cold, cold winter.

However, it is the physical theatre element of these piece that will certainly set it apart from other productions. Each member of this dynamic ensemble uses their body to create shifts in time, feeling and location – these uses of action and clever set changes escort us between worlds and across Narnia. Many of the cast multirole throughout this piece and make clear and distinct choices in their ownership of each and every character. But what truly champions this piece is each actor truly being present in every moment and making us believe that this is happening now, in this moment, for the very first time.

There are a number of notable performances throughout this production. Amalia Vitale’s interpretation of Bog is both fierce and humorous, keeping us laughing and occasionally uneasy throughout.  Ira Mandela Siobhan was equally captivating as Maugrim – the way in which he manipulated his whole body to convey this evil wolf was highly enticing and so believable that the minimal costume worked perfectly. The four siblings were all a delight to watch but John Leader delivered us a perfectly irritating and whinny Edmund and, Cora Kirk offered us a charming and wholly likeable Lucy. And Carla Mendonca’s performance as the White Witch was just sublime – unnerving and powerful, with a dash of panto villain to taste.

Director, Sally Cookson has really turned some of our preconceptions of the book and influences from film and TV on their heads. She’s managed to retain the original charm and story but also add a few welcome editions ranging from: the change in gender roles of Mr and Mrs Beaver – it was refreshing to see Mrs Beaver out of her dam-wife routine and, a wonderfully psychedelic moment conveying Edmund’s keen pursuit of more Turkish Delight. This jellied ‘dream’ was a pink and swirly haze of huge chunks of Turkish delight zooming around the stage along with an intricate yet non-distracting aerial display. It was almost like the Johnny Depp version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory crossed with the ‘Shiny’ song from Moana… but better.

Seeing an adaptation of your favourite childhood book is always a concern (especially when you’ve been highly unimpressed with the film version), but the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe does not disappoint. It succeeds in taking you an emotional rollercoaster from laughing at the animals’ tin can telephone neighbourhood watch sequences to having your heart strings pulled when Aslan sacrifices himself. You’re even keen to make sure that you too are a tree when the audience are asked to wave their green evacuation passes to represent the long-awaited birth of Spring. It is the little touches that make this piece very special, particularly the final moment when the children end up returning from Narnia to find the flowers that Aslan gave them are still in their pockets… Once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia.

 

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 27 January 2018. For more information and to book tickets, visit https://www.wyp.org.uk/events/lion-witch-wardrobe/

Charlotte Maxwell

Charlotte Maxwell

Charlotte is the Editor of A Younger Theatre and regularly reviews theatre for The Stage and on her website, afronalysis.com. Outside of reviewing, Charlotte is a writer, actor and director. She has had the pleasure of working with the Royal Exchange, Contact, Graeae, HOME, National Youth Theatre, Manchester Literature Festival and Parklife. With a background in education and healthcare, she has a terrible curiosity about human behaviour and an interest in using the arts to support learning. Charlotte read Speech and Language Sciences at Newcastle University and will be embarking on an MEd in Psychology of Education at the University of Manchester in 2018.