By: CS Lewis, adapted by Rupert Goold, who also directs with Michael Fentiman
Cast: PaulBarnhill, Carly Bawden, Rebecca Benson, Audrey Brisson, Sophie Louise Dann, Sally Dexter, Philip Labey, Forbes Masson, Abigail Matthews, Jack North, Peter Peverley, Brian Protheroe, Stuart Ramsay, David Rubin, Susannah Van Den Berg, Jonny Weldon, Sam Wilmott, Miltos Yerolemou, David Suchet (voice)
Design: Tom Scutt (also costumes and puppetry design)
I used to love the chronicles of Narnia: devoured them, read them over and over again, except for the Last Battle which I haven't read to this day because I couldn't bare for the adventure to be over and to have to say goodbye to the central characters.
That was in the 1980's, and then the BBC spoilt it with their tacky Sunday teatime serialisation in which the kids were all so plummy it was a big slap in the face that said "these stories are for posh kids not oiks like you - hands off". I think I did see one of the recent Hollywood adaptations, I can't remember much about it except inexplicably they seem to have crammed it full of chase and battle scenes. Why is it so difficult to get a dramatisation right? Perhaps because each producer has their own agenda for making money from the much-loved books.
It's the story of four wartime evacuees who discover a portal to a magic kingdom at the back of a wardrobe in their uncle's house. The land is gripped by an eternal winter, reflecting the tyranny of the white witch who rules there. The newcomers are treated as lost royalty by the cutesy animal inhabitants and help the country to banish winter and restore rule to a magnificent lion, Aslan, who rises from the dead. Seen with an adults eyes it's a really clunky Christian allegory but for kids it's magical.
The current theatrical outing has a lot to recommend it, especially the beautiful puppetry and aerial work but because writer and director Rupert Gould has to fill a circus tent with enough spectacle to justify West End ticket prices he's obliged to cram his show full of set pieces that utilise the expensive projection equipment that's been installed to create the scenery.
Still, at least it's better than last year’s Peter Pan at the same address which limped from flying sequence to flying sequence in the atmosphere-less big top. I think the reason that everything feels so unmagical in this environment is that the projections above and around us also illuminate the grotty temporary seating and grey canvas. It's so hard to immerse yourself in the world of Narnia when you can clearly see the brownie pack opposite slurping choc ices.
I should stress that this is the view of a cynical queen and I'm happy to report that the brownies and most of the kids in the audience did seem to be engaged- so you can take your godchildren confident that they'll be thrilled by things like the wardrobe rising up out of the floor swathed in dry ice and the stilt-walking trees.
As an adult however, I fear you'll be irritated by the Enya-type folk music and lack of clarity in the narrative.
Stay home and read the book to your younger friends instead. It'll be just as fulfilling an experience for everyone.
VERDICT: *** (Three Stars) A good stab at staging this much loved classic but it's hampered by the sterile millennium dome atmosphere of the venue.
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