01st Feb, 2018
A Review Of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe At The Playhouse
Words by Sarah Cotterill
Photographs by West Yorkshire Playhouse
Who can forget Mr & Mrs Beaver from the 1988 BBC TV series, waddling through the snow with their hilarious matted suits and oversized paws. Just as loveable are Lucy Tuck and Alan Francis’ comical pair, who pop up through a network of trap doors, enlisting the forest animals’ help in saving Edmund from the Ice Queen’s taloned grasp.
West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Christmas spectacular, which brings War Horse designer Rae Smith to the regional stage, reimagines this beloved tale in a multi-sensory blend of live music, intense movement, aerial arts and puppetry. It’s no wonder The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe has broken box office records.
Ushered through the twinkling transformed Barber Studio, our evacuation tickets kept close to hand, we are welcomed by a gung-ho team of train wardens, a talented and multi-skilled ensemble lead by Amalia Vitale. CS Lewis’ wartime classic steams ahead as the foursome escape for the country in a sequence of soaring suitcases, setting the precedent for this airborne performance, where your feet will hardly leave the ground. A refreshing and contemporary change from the traditional Pantomime, with instances of audience interaction just as rich and rewarding.
Dan Canham’s choreography is ultra physical, and it’s a marvel how the cast have coped with two show days for this extended run. Ira Mandela Siobhan’s arresting street fighter Maurgim, pops and locks with terrifying agility. The devised transitions between Professor Kirke’s mansion and the expanse of this mythical land are truly breathtaking. Narnia, where it’s eternally Winter but never Christmas, is the perfect seasonal hook, investing us in the spirited young siblings crusade. The arrival of clog clad Santa in the Second Act, delivering their gifts, is a joyous moment. White sheets of snow are stark against the vastness of the dark stage. The action is all around you, Smith’s clever design making the most of the Playhouse’s open grid fly system, and the cast’s circus background. Spectacle aside, it’s a moral tale with real heart, and Biblical allusions sensitively dealt with. Adam Peck’s script manages to avoid any verbose orations of good will, that can often appear mawkish in a family tale of this nature.
Cair Paravel is a world away from the greys and tweed of Blitz stricken Bradford, (or wherever Cookson’s placed the Pevensie children’s West Yorkshire accents), a psychedelic vision of whirling flower petals and Seventies tinged costume.
Like Edmund, you’ll find your journey through the wardrobe a real Turkish delight.
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