Review - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at the Bridge Theatre
It's tempting sometimes today to think many of us have taken the metaphorical step through the wardrobe of C.S.Lewis's imagination and entered the parallel totalitarian universe of Narnia that he created in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, "where it is always winter and never Christmas".
As we've become pawns in the great societal shifts that are occurring around us every day, whether it's living in the alternative realities of Trump or Brexit-fuelled grievance and politics, winter seems to perpetually engulf us. Yet Christmas is soon upon us, too, and here's a vivid new theatrical version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe an antidote to pantomime.
In returning to the essence of Lewis's dark fantasy folk-tale in a freshly-devised production that has finally transferred to London's Bridge Theatre after premiering at Leeds Playhouse in 2017, director Sally Cookson takes us to a place of far more elemental fears and distractions. As it follows four child evacuees from wartime London during the Second World War to the countryside, it is rooted in a recognisable, heartfelt situation - much like that other childhood war fable The Railway Children - but then springboards into a world of fertile imagination, that's full of dangers both real and imagined. While Disney's latest film-to-stage musical hit Frozen (which itself has just seen a film sequel released) also conjures a chilly landscape with jaw-droppingly spectacular sets, and lavish use of dry ice, Cookson and her designer Rae Smith rely on more low-tech effects to draw us in.
There's a gleaming theatricality on display, in a world that's by turn immediate and relatable, fantastical and frightening. Suitcases are suddenly re-purposed as railway carriages; white cloth provides a snow-filled landscape and the next instant becomes the train of the White Witch's cloak as she is suspended over the stage. Aslan, the lion, is a giant cutaway puppet, carried by several actors and voiced by the impressively authoritative Wil Johnson.
This is an evening of rich storytelling theatre, for which every element of theatrical craft is employed to service, from an evocative score by Benji Bower to atmospheric lighting by Bruno Poet and physical movement by Dan Canham.
There's no stinting on the darkness of the story - yet there's also a flying Santa Claus to remind us that this is a festive tale, too.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tickets are available now.
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