Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: A Review

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a classic tale by C.S. Lewis, and at the Jersey Arts Centre it is brought to life through clever use of minimalist sets and costumes, inviting the audience to suspend belief and enter this magical world of the imagination. This production uses the dramatisation by Adrian Mitchel with music by Shaun Savey and has five members of the Jersey Arts Centre youtheatre, three from their Junior Drama group, and six adult actors.

It is the story which charms, and all the actors playing their parts do so wonderfully. The children playing the Pevensie children are all brilliant, but particular mention must go to Kate Meadows who shines as Lucy. I have rarely seen a performance so naturalistic and captivating in such a young actor.

It is through her that the audience are drawn into Narnia, and her meeting with Mr Tumnus the Faun (played by Wayne Stewart) is delightful. Their duet “Always Winter Now” is heartfelt and lovely.

Without giving away too much, the sets have four large wooden rectangular containers with doors, which are variously shifted round the stage. The back of some are painted with trees, while the one which functions as “The Wardrobe” has a lion’s face on it, and they all have doors which can be opened. Inside each is a small set to be drawn out – the wardrobe contains fur coats, of course, while another contains Mr Tumnus cave, complete with table, tea pot, cakes and chairs to be taken out. Inside another is the Beaver’s home, and inside another the White Witch’s Throne. This is a wonderfully ingenuous way of opening up the sets. It is a clever artifice of theatre which gives just enough of a hook to draw the audience's imagination in.

The other children – Mac Galvin as Edmund, Lily-Mae Fry as Susan, and Xander Meadows as Peter are also extremely good. Lily-Mae Fry is perhaps the hardest part, as Susan is the least realised of the characters in Narnia, but she plays her part well.

Edmund of course is a plum role, as he has run the full gamut from being sneaky and lying about Narnia to a full blown traitor, and yet part of his story is also redemption and sorrow and mending broken relationships with his siblings. Mac Galvin does this very well.

Peter’s part is more heroic and also a more physical role, and Xander Meadows plays the part well. The battle with the wolf – Peter Jones as Maugrim in a rasping scenery chewing role – is well choreographed and looks natural.

Not quite so natural is Mr Beaver (played by Nick Carver) getting fish for the children to eat (I won't give away spoilers) and Mrs Beaver (Jenny McCarthy) to cook. It’s very funny though. Indeed the two have a wonderful comic rapport throughout, and “Swiggle Down the Lot” is a rousing musical hall style song.

A number of parts are doubled up – Peter Jones also doubles as Father Christmas – and while some of the doubling is easy to spot, this wasn’t. He turns in a completely different performance from the rasping and threatening Maugrim and had I not the benefit of the cast list, I would not have known it was him. His outfit as Father Christmas is interesting, with traditional red and white and hint of green, but drawing perhaps more on the Dutch roots of Sinter-Claus than the Americanised Coca-Cola image. “Christmas is here at last”, with Father Christmas and the company is very much a song for this season, highlighting that this is a play for the Christmas season.

At the heart of Narnia is Aslan, and in Jyothi Nayar we have Aslan played by a woman. Actually a female Aslan works very well, and the way she plays the part conveys both the strength of the Lion but also a kind of stranger otherness. This is not just any old lion, this lion is the true ruler of Narnia, in contrast to Jadis as the false Queen. There is real power in her performance.

The quest to find Aslan takes the children and the Beavers to the stone table, and others of the company join them there in the song “Come to the table”, which is replete with implicit overtones of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, for like an altar it is a stone table, where all are welcomed.

All who love living
come to the table.
All who love loving
come to the table.
All who love Aslan
come to the table.
There's plenty of room
At the table for all.

By contrast the White Witch and her creatures take Aslan when he has given his life for that of Edmund, so that the Deep Magic may not be broken, they sing “Come to the Carnival”, which is full of menace, and a direct counterpoint to the festivity of Aslan's table. This is a carnival of monsters, and it ends in Aslan's death.

Come to the Carnival
Come to the Feast
Come to the Taunting
Of the Royal Beast

Nicole Twinam excels as the White Witch, seductive in the song “Turkish Delight” as she enchants Edmund, and angry and powerful when she turns a woodland crowd to stone. And she manages just to hit the right note with her laugh, which sounds thoroughly evil.

The adaptation is an abbreviation of the book – how could it not be at around 1 hour 45 minutes? – but manages to capture all the right parts of the story, including the humour, present in the books but so sadly lacking in the movie. There are also nods to "The Magician's Nephew", mention of a painting of a winged horse flying across a landscape of hills and valleys, and Professor Kirke (one of several distinctive roles played by Hettie Duncan) mentioning his childhood friend from that story, Polly Plummer..

This is a play of great warmth, ending in the finale song “Long Live”, of which the final stanza is:

Long live the children
and the professor.
Long live adventures
and hearts so true.
Long live the music,
long live the magic
and long live the land
of Narnia too.

And at this point “Lucy” comes across the stage and gives a copy of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to a little girl in the audience, and the rest of the cast come forward to shake hands with some of those in the first two rows and wish us happy Christmas. It was magic indeed.

Mrs Beaver and Mr Beaver

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