The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: Beautifully realised fantasy

Review: Adaptation of CS Lewis classic as relevant as ever

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
★★★★☆

Hear the clarion call of a soldier’s song, the rumbling roar of a bomb, the chaos of a train station. See a group of children line up on the platform; a family of refugees. In the current geopolitical climate, Michael Fentiman’s production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is uncannily prescient. A fantasy unfolding in a parallel universe as the world is at war, CS Lewis’s story, published in 1950 in novel form, is surely more relevant than it has ever been.

Lewis’s narrative is adapted for the stage by Adam Peck, and while the dramaturgy is lucid, it also complements Fentiman’s ensemble vision, which is based on Sally Cookson’s original 2017 production. In the first few minutes, the central role of the Pevensie children is firmly established, but as the actors swoop across the stage with streetlights and suitcases lit up as train carriages, the collaborative effort of the storytelling is clear. With this in mind, it seems unfair to highlight individual cast members, but Ammar Duffus, Shaka Kalokoh, Robin Sinclair and Karise Yansen maintain a childlike wonder as the Pevensies even in the most dramatically brutal scenes.

Most admirably, perhaps, the production refuses to compete with well-known screen versions of the tale, eschewing theatrical trickery for old fashioned storytelling techniques instead. Bedsheets become landscapes: snow-capped caves and hills. Puppets (the ingenious work of Max Humphries and Toby Olié) are manned by visible puppeteers. Musical instruments are remade as props even as they are played. The execution is remarkably sophisticated, but inspirational too: what child hasn’t played with shadows on the bedroom wall?

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Designers Tom Paris and Rae Smith set a series of circles within the proscenium frame; a design that foregrounds the story’s sense of time arrested, both within the world of Narnia, where it has been winter for 100 years, and within the real-world framework, where the children disappear into Narnia for decades but only minutes have passed. It is a pretty great metaphor for the theatrical experience, really, and for this production, which offers a beautifully realised fantasy to get lost in.

Runs until March 19th