The Royal Lyceum: 28 Nov 2015-Sun 3 Jan 2016
Review by Susan Lowes
Well of course they are. It’s mostly set in Narnia, with talking animals, mythical creatures and a prophecy to be fulfilled. It doesn’t get any better than that.
This much-loved and cherished story by CS Lewis is cleverly brought to life by Theresa Heskins’ adaptation. And yet, despite its best intentions, this production directed by Andrew Panton falters mid-way, through hammy overacting.
The story opens with a tremendous amount of anticipation amongst the rising steam of a railway station. The Pevensie siblings – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy – are evacuated from World War II London to live in the countryside with a mysterious professor. There’s an emotional farewell, which is soon forgotten as the four begin to explore their new surroundings, and get a whole lot more than they bargained for.
Panton pitches the first act perfectly. It is a whirlwind tour through the Pevensie’s explorations, remaining true to the ethos of the story and maintaining momentum and flow to keep children and adults alike captivated.
Claire-Marie Seddon is a wonderful Lucy, the youngest of the children, who first finds the doorway into Narnia. She’s wide-eyed, trusting and wholeheartedly good as she is taken in by the misguided, but loveable Mr Tumnus (Ewan Donald). She is taunted and bullied by her spoiled, lying bully of a brother, Edmund – played with just the right amount of sneer by Christian Ortega.
Susan (Charlotte Miranda Smith) and Peter (James Rottger) are their more measured and sensible elder siblings who mediate between the two, but need a little nudge to truly believe in the magic that awaits them.
The Pevensie’s adventure into Narnia to save Mr Tumnus is fantastical. The set is stunningly executed – there’s been an awesome amount of work invested by The Lyceum workshops to get Becky Minto’s design right.
From the mist and fluttering snowflakes, to the intricate library, to the mysterious stone table. It is simply magical. The songs, by Claire McKenzie and Scott Gilmore, are short and catchy, and the act delights and astonishes, building to an inspiring climax. As the curtain closes on the first act, there’s a sense that this might just be perfection.
However, that is soon dispelled as the second act begins. The magic created by the set is maintained and it is joined by some truly fantastical light shows and effects. But the second half feels a little rushed and the magic is quashed by a miscast Aslan.
Ben Onwukwe plays the lion with a curious combination of both over and under exaggeration. His movements across the stage are childlike and comical instead of graceful and feline. Instead of the benevolent noble lion who stands for goodness and justice, there’s an over-exuberant, growling figure – with dreadlocks in place of a golden flowing mane – who is more terrifying than awe-inspiring. Pauline Knowles, playing the White Witch, demands more presence and respect than the supposed Kingly lion. Without this element, this pivotal force, the rest of the story doesn’t quite seem to fit in place.
That said though, there is a magnificent scene where the Pevensie girls are riding on Aslan’s back as they charge across Narnia, which is a true visual treat. That alongside some magnificent fighting scenes, expertly aided by Simon Wlkinson’s light design, do somewhat save the day.
Overall, this production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is well considered and delivered. It’s charming as it delights and entertains. It’s so agonisingly close to a perfect Christmas production. A few tweaks and a focus on the should-be magnificent lion and the Lyceum could really knock this one out of this world.
Running time: 2 hours (including one interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street EH3 9AX
Saturday 28 November 2015 – Sunday 3January 2016
Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7 pm, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2.00 pm
Tickets from: http://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe1