The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Bridge Theatre
It’s painful to say this as someone who, as a child, rewatched the BBC’s adaptation of the book over and over on VHS, but The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is pretty boring. One-dimensional characters, a plot that increasingly devolves into allegorical tosh, and an irritating amount of twee Englishness. But you know what? In the hands of Sally Cookson, none of that really matters.
Evacuated to the countryside – the production is quick to establish the drama of this disorientating exile, even if it’s a thread that isn’t particularly woven through the rest of the show – the four Pevensie children arrive at the impressive house of the Professor. With the grounds out of bounds due to the weather, the kids go indoor exploring, eventually leading the youngest Lucy through the titular armoire and into the path of Mr Tumnus. From here the children gradually get drawn into the world (and wars) of Narnia, a land trapped in a never-ending winter.
The toolbox used by Cookson and designer Rae Smith isn’t that flashy or extensive. And yet the magic conjured on stage is only enhanced by the wonderful practicality of the direction. Malevolent snow and frost are as simple as some huge white sheets, given their own personality by the way they billow and pour. The moth-ridden fur coats that fill the wardrobe are physical creatures. Almost every element of Narnia is anthropomorphised by the ensemble, bringing to life CS Lewis’s land of constant vigilance and warring factions. Here Narnia is the play’s greatest character.
Not to say there isn’t fun work among the actors. Laura Elphinstone’s White Witch is – ahem – chilling, while Beverly Rudd and Dean Nolan bring a healthy dose of jolly wartime pragmatism to their commando-style Beavers. There’s also a fantastic appearance from musician Tim Dalling as an accordion-playing Father Christmas – Mr. Claus and his reindeer band going a bit “O Santa, Where Art Thou?” in the best of the show’s hit-and-miss musical moments.
Though most of the play’s problems stem from the source material – John Leader’s sour and petulant Edmund is the only interesting Pevensie – the show itself makes a couple of missteps. Wil Johnson’s Aslan, i.e. Disney’s The Lion Christ, is a cookie-cutter saviour without much gravitas. And the ending sequence sees the classy presentation swapped for a design more in line with a school production of Cirque du Soleil’s Ovo.
It is a testament to Cookson’s ability to make you feel like a wide-eyed child, then, that these issues amount to nitpicking in the face of her warming journey through the wardrobe.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is at the Bridge Theatre from 9th November until 2nd February 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe here: