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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe review — A magical, modern take on the classic Narnia story

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

“All humans are good, mostly, deep down,” says Lucy to Mr. Tumnus. She’s introducing herself to her new faun friend in Narnia ane explaining people in the “real” world. With the state of the world today, it’s sometimes difficult to see the good in the current climate. Thankfully, theatre can provide a much-needed respite from reality. And there's no better escape than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

On paper, a winter-themed play in summer shouldn’t work. Snow falling on stage during a warm summer's evening is rightfully confusing. But upon stepping into the (mercifully and appropriately) air-conditioned Gillian Lynne Theatre, the winter blast invites audiences into a magical Narnia world where everything feels a little bit more beautiful than reality.

C. S. Lewis’s tale follows the four Pevensie children as they escape wartime Britain and find themselves in a new world. Elements of the original story remain: subtexts of Christianity, imperialism, and war ground the moral retelling. However the contemporary flair elevates the classic children’s book into a classy adult affair.

Sally Cookson's production started out as an immersive retelling at Leeds Playhouse, before a Bridge Theatre engagement, and a subsequent national tour. Now, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe plays in a proscenium arch, and it snugly fits like a hardcover on your bookshelf. Michael Fentiman directs every element to fill the vast auditorium, while also bringing intimacy to bring you into the Narnia story.

Benji Bower’s and Barnaby Race’s original composition adds melodic Celtic undertones similar to Once and Come From Away bringing the Gillian Lynne auditorium into life. Shannelle "Tali" Fergus’s modern, fluid choreography paints broad and beautiful strokes across the stage. Add in Max Humphries and Toby Olié’s stylish puppetry — notably a boy made up of glowing Turkish delight boxes — and the end result is a play as quintessentially British as a Victoria sponge.

Samantha Womack shines as Jadis, the sneering, frosty White Witch who seeks absolute control over her nation. Womack balances an equal amount of taunting and dominance with an alluring mystery; her Act Two disappearing trick is worthy of the Magic Circle. When the majestic Aslan parades around the stage in the second act, the crowd appropriately roars into action. Chris Jared matches the grand puppeteering as the stately Aslan human actor. Actor-musicians complement the whimsical forest feel, notably Julian Hoult and Christina Tedders as the charming Mr and Mrs Beaver, and Jez Unwin as a spritely Mr. Tumnus.

It’s 149 days to Christmas. But in Narnia, every day could be Christmas Day. And in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one person can exist in two parallel worlds. If I could exist in real life and Narnia at the same time like the Pevensies, it’d be a Christmas miracle.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. Book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Photo courtesy of production)

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