‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ - threesixty
Adapting such a well-known and well-loved book as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a daunting task for any director. As Hollywood’s inexorably saccharine skirmishes with the Narnia series have shown, it’s easy to get it wrong. Fortunately there’s enough in Rupert Gould’s production to entertain old and young - but perhaps not make you forget the hole it left in your wallet.
Gould’s production dives straight into the action of the story with the book’s WWII introduction relegated to a few minor references to evacuation and bombing raids. Clearly the creative team were keen to get straight into the magic of Narnia. This is a shame, as a clearer depiction of bleakness of the Pevensie children’s world would have only enhanced the wonder of their new one.
However, such quibbles are soon forgotten as Lucy flies out of the wardrobe into the midst of stilt-walking trees, friendly fawns and falling snow. Spectacle is what this show does best and it delivers handsomely. Wardrobes rise out of the floor, stages revolve, tree spirits fly through the air and Aslan’s corpse magically vanishes from the Stone Table. The climactic battle scene revels in circus acrobatics as performers tumble, somersault and soar about the stage.
The audience is surrounded by a series of panoramic stop-motion animations depicting the interiors of houses or the transformation of the wardrobe into gnarly, snow-clad trees. While these 360 degree projections are engaging backdrops, they’re rarely essential to the dramaturgy of the show and it’s hard not feel that such technology could be more integrally used. However, the projections come into their own as Aslan, Susan and Lucy soar across Narnia.
The acting is solid rather than subtle but the cavernous space of the threesixty Theatre at Kensington Gardens demands nothing less. The scale of the venue means that the actors must fight to win the audience’s attention and interaction is woven into the show to do just that. Jonny Weldon and Rebecca Benson were particularly enjoyable as Edmund and Lucy.
The design of the costumes and puppets has several nods to both The Lion King and War Horse – the stilt-scrambling wolves are more than fleetingly reminiscent of Julie Taymor’s animals and the large Aslan puppet clearly fancies itself as a feline Joey.
Sadly, both in construction and manipulation, Aslan lacks the conviction of Handspring’s horses. Rarely does the king of beasts seem anything other than an oversized backpack. His driftwood aesthetic is engaging, and we desperately want to believe in him, but his often awkward, clunking movements deny us that delight.
Despite this it’s hard not to root for Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy and their assortment of animal friends as they battle Sally Dexter’s suitably evil White Witch. This is a heady mix of circus, puppetry, animation and music and – while the songs may be forgettable, some of the acting hammy and much of the puppetry average – this is a spectacular show that appeals to our inner child.
Directed by Rupert Goold and Michael Fentiman
Set, costume and puppet design by Tom Scutt
Lighting by Tim Mitchell
Score by Adam Cork