The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe has been staged many times but rarely as magically as in this latest festive production by Sally Cookson.
Foregoing the usual whizz-bang technicality of big shows, the in-the-round adaptation adopts a basic design that’s as stark as winter in Narnia, enhanced by an array of visually creative moving props.
Wardrobe doors spin from one side of the stage to the other, standard lamps are held aloft by servants and the personification of Spring performs aerial acrobatics.
They brings a freshness to CS Lewis’s story, aided by its emphasis on the human cost of conflict and the Oz-like parallels drawn between the two worlds. Housekeeper Mrs Macready is twinned to the White Witch (a brilliantly scary Carla Mendonca), while Professor Kirke and his aptly named pet cat Schrodinger double up as Aslan (a rather unimposing Iain Johnstone).
Such parallels underscore the emphasis on war and loss, with Edmund seen as a vulnerable, scared child as well as someone who betrays Aslan.
The dark tone is drawn out by the three-piece live band, electronic and percussion heavy, for the scene in which the White Witch grows to frighteningly tall proportions, the fabric of her dress consuming the entire stage.
And it helps build the tension during a scene in which ghouls and sprites go to battle, their hunchbacks and grotesquely oversized masks striking terror into the audience. The puppetry also breathes life into Aslan, initially portrayed as a larger than life marionette, creating a sense of might all too often missing in stage versions of the book.
Another production strength is its modulation of mood so that the take-home message is one of positivity and good triumphing over evil. The musical motif for the dawning Spring is brightly folksy and Celtic, with the audience invited to participate in the budding of saplings during a scene that’s positively pantomime.
These homely interactive elements and the use of simple but devastatingly effective props enhance the play’s celebration of the power of the imagination.
Runs until January 27, box office: wyp.org.uk
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