Ahhh Christmas. Snow, mince pies, dark evenings and perhaps a trip to the theatre for a panto. At Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre the snow was falling gently last night as the wardrobe doors were opened on Narnia, that magical country where it’s never summer and the White Witch rules with an iron fist in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
For anyone with memories of CS Lewis’ novel, this new version focuses on all the best bits, a kind of greatest hits package designed to keep the kids happy while leaving in enough meat to satisfy the adults.
An opening montage hints at things to come, the arrival of our four young heroes – Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund – at the home of Professor Kirke in 1940 portrayed in a montage of scenes set to a jaunty tune that wouldn’t be out of place in a film from the period.
While both Professor Kirke and housekeeper Mrs Mcready are clearly far too young to be the ageing characters of the book, they are soon forgetten as the children make their way into the land of Narnia for the first time.
For most of the audience this is probably the moment that was going to be the most intriguing: how do you translate the discovery of one of the most exciting concepts in English literature onto the stage? While perhaps not seamless, the movement from England to Narnia is still impressive, the depiction of the fantasy world on the confined stage of the Lyceum suitably wintery.
This cut-down classic plays up the humour of the book, the Witch and her minions turning into something of a comedy trio. While too much darkness might not sit well in a family show, there is some jarring towards the end of the play, battle scenes and the torture of a central character at odds with what has gone before.
The cast are on good form throughout, the children as breathless and enthusiastic as they should be, even if their individual traits are less obvious in the pared down script. The interpretation of Aslan (Daniel Wilson) as a muscled man mountain is one that works perfectly and while the Witch may be slightly OTT at times, this is no documentary.
For anyone looking for some Christmas fun and to introduce younger fans to the works of CS Lewis, this is a good place to start, the children present at the yesterday’s performance clearly enjoying the jokes. For anyone looking for a truly faithful representation of Wardrobe, you’ll be disappointed and it might just be worth ordering the complete set off Amazon for a Christmas read.
Review by Jonathan Melville
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe runs until 3 January at the Royal Lyceum.
Here’s a look at the trailer: