Jemma Beggs was at the Sherman Theatre to review this year’s Christmas performance, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Sherman Cymru can always be relied upon for a magical Christmas production and this year’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe didn’t disappoint. Rachel O’Riordan and Theresa Heskins’s exuberant adaptation manages to retain all the recognisable elements of C.S. Lewis’s much loved classic, whilst still creating something contemporary and exciting.
A seemingly nondescript set, consisting of some rolling hills and a couple of free-standing staircases, underwent multiple transformations with the help of a rotating floor; a steaming train, The White Witch’s sleigh, the nooks and crannies of a sprawling mansion and of course, the hidden realms of Narnia. Some forbidding icicles which later melted into the most beautiful hanging flowers really brought the set to life, along with the passion and energy of the ten-strong cast.
It can be easy to fall into overacting when playing the roles of excited children and although some unnecessary shouting sometimes compromised the quality of the singing, the overall commitment and spirit of the actors really captured the imagination of the audience. The Pevensie children were portrayed perfectly from Joseph Tweedale’s pompous Peter and Elin Philips’ motherly Susan to Matthew Durkan’s devious Edmund and Grawr Loader’s compassionate Lucy.
The narration was seamlessly woven into the action to move the story along at a satisfying pace, with Gareth Wyn Griffiths’ direction providing some suitably atmospheric musical numbers. Rarely does one come across such a self-sufficient cast – at least half possess great musical talent, performing as a live band to accompany the action when not in character. Kate Robson-Stuart (otherwise known as Mrs Beaver) was particularly impressive on the violin.
Instead of capitulating to cliché and stereotype, Kay Magson opted to cast a very untraditional White Witch in the form of Anita Reynolds; a curvaceous, dark skinned beauty sporting a shaved head and flared jumpsuit, in place of the conventional flowing dresses and tresses. Despite Deryn Tudor’s stunning costume, however, Reynolds’ portrayal lacked the perfect blend of allurement and malice which makes the White Witch so terrifying.
Unfortunately, the fantastic wardrobe did not extend to the animal characters. There was a distinct lack of costume, merely outfits in representative colours – grey for the wolf and brown for the beavers. This did serve to showcase the talent of the cast, as they embodied the characters through the animalistic traits of their acting with limited visual aid, but this was perhaps leaving a little too much to the imagination unnecessarily.
It is always a daunting task to transform a man into a lion and Aslan is a particularly mighty lion to live up to. Despite little help from his minimalist costume, Matthew Woodyatt struck a good balance of the wise yet wild charisma of the King of Narnia, but his peculiar walk appeared more injured limp than prowling feline. However, his recreation of Aslan running through the forest to the White Witch’s castle with Susan and Lucy on his back was astoundingly realistic.
Kevin McCurdy’s fight scenes were well choreographed, with the precise timing and dramatic tension making for an action-packed climax. Tumbling back through the wardrobe at the end of the show, the Pevensie children return to the real world, leaving the magical land of Narnia far behind. I doubt the audience will find it as easy to forget such an evening of enchantment.
Jemma Beggs has written many theatre reviews for Wales Arts Review.