Having opened at the Leeds Playhouse back in 2017, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been magically transported over to the Bridge Theatre in London, where it awaits to transport you to its unique and bizarre world.
From the second you walk into the auditorium, the staging is a sight to behold and is quite the spectacle. Even as the show progresses, you feel whisked away into the world ‘behind the wardrobe’; especially as the show melts out into the aisles!
Sally Cookson emphasises perfectly the plight of the Pevensie children as evacuees, sent far from home as they miss their parents. Cookson is a wizard at blending simple theatrical tricks and set design. The world of Narnia is conjured up with white sheets billowing away, and train carriages are made out of vintage and old fashioned suitcases. The impressive costumes, puppetry and aerial work add to the whole atmosphere of the show.
Aslan, the unforgettable character, is embodied by Wil Jhonson and represented by a winged lion puppet that has deep glowing eyes; and the White Witch, played by the mesmerising Laura Elphinstone, sports a headdress like no other that towers above the rest of the cast.
As her wintery hold over Narnia begins to break, the production becomes increasingly colourful. There are giant cubes of Turkish delight and vast foam flowers. But the play does not shy away from the darker parts of CS Lewis’ allegory-heavy original. The creatures that populate the battle sequences are genuinely creepy – and potentially quite scary for young people.
The comedy moments are mostly provided by Mr and Mrs Beaver (Dean Nolan and Beverly Rudd) and woodland creatures Badger and Squirrel, who as part of the neighbourhood watch pop up from hidden trap doors and use tin cans to communicate. They are all on hand to help the children, leading them to Aslan the lion who is destined to help them fulfil the prophecy and free Narnia.
John Leader is able to add emphasis to the vulnerability to the character of Edmund, and Keziah Joseph is both spirited and plucky as young Lucy.
On stage musicians create the changing mood, along with the lighting design by Bruno Poet and stunning aerial acrobatics herald the coming of spring. As Lucy and Susan (Keziah Joseph and Shalisa James–Davis) bring a youthful charm to their roles, Omari Bernard embodies Maugrim the wolf both vocally and physically, writhing, twisting, and snarling. He drew gasps of fear from some of the younger members of the audience.
This production certainly captures the heart of the book, and as in Narnia time moves quicker than normal, before long the battle is over, the children have ruled Narnia for several years and suddenly we are back in the house wondering if it was all a dream.
Cookson has done a marvellous job of piecing together such a wonderful and much-loved family classic and allowed for it to shine brightly on the stage. This is more than just a show; this is an unforgettable journey to the place we all wanted to visit as children; Narnia.