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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Gillian Lynne Theatre review - the puppetry is all part of the magic | reviews, news & interviews

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Gillian Lynne Theatre review - the puppetry is all part of the magic

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Gillian Lynne Theatre review - the puppetry is all part of the magic

Multi-talented musical cast delivers va-va voom in Sally Cookson’s reimagined Narnia

The lion king: Aslan in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

This bold reimagining of Sally Cookson’s innovative 2017 production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe swoops into Drury Lane from a triumphant national tour.

Where Cookson gently and skilfully detached CS Lewis’s original from its Christian middle-class roots with its playful references to quantum physics and the moon-landings, here director Michael Fentiman adds va-va voom to the action with a dynamic design and a multi-talented musical cast.

We live in a different world, of course, to the world of 2017; and as the production opens with a hauntingly evocative performance of We’ll Meet Again we remember not just the evacuees of the Forties but the Ukrainian families ripped apart in recent months. Then, as now, the train was the prime mode of escape; here – as in Cookson’s original – it’s brilliantly represented by a toy steam-engine followed by battered suitcases that suddenly light up so that they look like carriages.

Tom Paris’s new design enhances the original concept of worlds within worlds by creating a set in which concentric circles evoke a magical solar system. Often the central circle opens to reveal anything from a performer giving it their all on the electric cello to Chris Jared’s charismatic Aslan as he prepares to do battle with the White Witch.

Samantha Womack as the White Witch at the Gillian Lynne TheatreFentiman has pared back the action so we get swiftly to the moment that has defined so many childhoods; that point when Lucy walks through the wardrobe to end up in Narnia. Here it’s pretty obvious even from the outside that this is a wardrobe with attitude; the doors with their golden spokes look like the entrance to some sun god’s temple. Yet the opening of the doors comes with a whoomph of magic as dancers in fur coats suddenly swirl them inside out so they become sleek and snowy white. The next thing we know Lucy – played with simultaneous determination and innocence by Delainey Hayles – has bumped into Jez Unwin’s amenable Mr Tumnus (who also does a mean turn on the cello, piano and pipe).

The puppetry – directed by Toby Olié and designed by Max Humphries – is all part of the magic, whether it’s the allure of Professor Kirk’s cat, called (in a joke from the original production) Schrödinger or the majesty of Aslan. The White Witch’s wolfish secret police, headed up by Emmanuel Ogunjimni’s Maugrim, are thrillingly evoked with masks and crutches that make them look like direct descendants of Antony Sher’s Richard III.

Sometimes the production feels a bit too conceptually exuberant; beyond the cosmic design the costumes seem to reference everything from steampunk to Game of Thrones. There’s a moment in which cubes of Turkish Delight rise up and turn into a quasi-human figure, taunting Shaka Kolokoh’s Edmund, which frankly feels drawn from another show. At the start the dialogue errs on the clunky side, too. For a while it forges an uneasy path between the comedy of the chat between the children and the magic of what they discover. Yet as the production proceeds it picks up pace and becomes utterly compelling once Aslan appears.

As the White Witch, Samantha Womack (pictured above) delivers the necessary combination of poison and glamour, at one point rising above the stage so that her white robe becomes an otherworldly canvas on which the silhouettes of ghouls prepare to do battle. Here the puppetry and choreography combine to magnificent effect; there’s a real feeling that it’s a transitional moment between one realm and another. Fight director Jonathan Holby manages to sustain both tension and credibility as the final battle between good and evil plays itself out.

As a critic I very much liked Cookson’s original; in terms of coherence this production raises more questions for me, even though ultimately it delivers the requisite punch. Still, there is much to bewitch young children, and by the end it takes you to another dimension in all the right ways. In a golden age of puppetry in the West End, this joyful interpretation more than holds its own.



The production becomes utterly compelling from the moment Aslan appears


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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