C S Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia are so inventive it's hard to fully recreate their distinctive magic on the stage, but this RSC musical production, dramatised by Adrian Mitchell- and now making a welcome return visit to the capital- certainly achieves at least partial success in capturing the special flavour of Narnia. Lewis always claimed that whilst there's undoubted religious allusion in Narnia, the tales shouldn't be seen as straightforward allegories, for, like all the best children's books, they've a richness that defies over simplification.
Anthony's Ward's superb set, (framed by archways that suggest the possibility of another world) is fluid and imaginative in the best spirit of the book and provides a perfect complement to the unfolding action. Four children go to stay with Professor Kirk in his large country house during air raids in wartime London. One day the youngest, Lucy, stumbles through a wardrobe to find herself in the frosty, enchanting world of Narnia, a place that, as the kindly faun Mr Tumnus tells her, is "always winter, never Christmas," thanks to the spite of self-appointed Queen of the land- the evil White Witch. After initial scepticism, Lucy's brothers and sister manage the same journey and all embark on a adventure that will bring them into contact with a whole host of fantastical creatures, led by the magnificent lion Aslan, played with gusto by Patrice Naiambana whose intrinsic goodness offers hope of liberation from the spell cast by the White Witch ( wonderfully embodied by Maureen Beattie.)
There's plenty to delight young children here- talking beavers, giants and centaurs, to name but a few and the costumes are as lavish as you could possibly wish. A small caveat: Narnia posseses enough appeal to make songs per se superfluous and whilst there are a couple of tunes that appeal (the paean to scrumptious Turkish delight amongst them!), generally the musical bits seem a little laborious rather than genuinely entertaining; you can gauge such success by the silence of the kids and the wriggle factor started in earnest at such moments. This aside, and with perhaps a good fifteen minutes expertly trimmed from the end of the show, Mitchell's dramatisation scores high on the wonder factor and not just for the under eight's either! A perfect festive treat.