C.S Lewis’ classic, ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’, has proven to be undeniably challenging to adapt successfully to theatre. This is perhaps due to the large cast, frequent changes from one location to another, and the difficulty of costumes and makeup for creatures such as giants, wolves, fauns, centaurs and of course, lions.
However, I was deeply impressed with Brite Theatre’s production of the well-known children’s book. Despite limitations in staging space, costume and scenery, it maintained the character of Lewis’ work more than any other production I have ever seen. David Johnson, Bryony Reynolds, Jake Francis and Melissa Barrett were the perfect choices for each of the four main roles, encapsulating the essence of each character exactly. Peter was wonderfully loyal, admiringly brave and rather oblivious to the subtleties of diplomacy, while Edmund was appropriately unpleasant as he determinedly rebelled against the authority of his older siblings, while mercilessly bullying the younger. Susan was captured perfectly, anxiously feeling everyone’s foreheads and tutting, while Lucy was simultaneously endearingly enthusiastic and irritatingly childish.
Emily Carding particularly stood out as the entirely regal and genuinely terrifying White Witch; cloaked and corseted with a sword she was portrayed as a Boudicca-like figure. Carding also showed her talent at comedic parts in her portrayal of the formidable Scottish housekeeper, Mrs McCreedy, who was somewhat reminiscent of Professor McGonagall. James Paul Bush portrayed the mad Professor with flair and eccentricity, and was a very convincing and endearingly flustered Mr Tumnus.
Aslan is always a particularly difficult character to play. While the audience can relate to the children, demonise the White Witch as ‘the enemy’, and be entertained by the other creatures, Aslan is, by his nature, completely inhuman. Chris Harknett managed to maintain the majestic nature of the character, and his delivery was regal and solemn, although the costume detracted slightly from the nobility of Aslan, and his roar, while undeniably impressive for a human, was always going to be underwhelming as a lion’s roar. Similarly, the story required too many scene changes for the limited staging to fully cope, but the cast coped with this as well as they possibly could have done, and it did not affect the audience’s enjoyment at all.
The Beavers were charming; Emma Payne was particularly good as Mrs Beaver with her motherly nature, flair for the dramatic and preoccupation with her sewing machine, while the swordfights were simply but professionally staged. Unlike the film which engaged predominantly with the battle scenes, the production sensibly kept these brief, and focussed on characterisation and the complex human relationships, particularly between the four siblings, where the true strength of the production lay.
Some particularly enjoyable moments included the festive encounter with Father Christmas, Mr Tumnus’ haunting pipe melody which lulls Lucy to sleep, and the encounters with the eccentric Professor. Audience participation, to my personal relief, was virtually non-existent, although during the children’s exploration of the Professor’s house, the audience were referred to as ‘the kind of creepy paintings where their eyes follow you around the room’.
Directed by Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir in collaboration with Brite Theatre and Midsummer Madness, the production was professional, pleasantly true to the book, and greatly enjoyable to watch.
by Helen Carrington