Lovetovisit at the West End: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

26 August 2022 sent Latoya Austin, one of our freelancers, on an exclusive trip to the Gillian Lynne Theatre to review The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

It was the hottest day of the year so far, which felt like an apt setting for a Tennessee Williams’ play rather than the wintry settings of Narnia. But this new adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and its magical escape from the reality of war time evacuation, via a wardrobe into the land of Narnia, simply sizzles on the stage and was a worthwhile visit during such extreme temperatures.

With songs such as ‘We’ll Meet Again’ initially depicting the solemn setting of war, the stage setting evokes that mysterious aura of mysticism and fantasy to delight the fans of Harry Potter, Doctor Strange and His Dark Materials.  This new stage production of C. S. Lewis’ renowned novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is clearly unafraid to revel in the depths of darkness embedded within the tale. As such, audiences are immersed within a darkly lit stage combined with the terrifying concept of children being kidnapped by an evil Queen, plus the realms of an otherworld with sinister looking creatures, which results in a compelling production.

All of the elements from the novel are there in this faithful adaptation which does give rise to some knowing jokes, plus an unexpected appearance from Father Christmas, so it is necessary to have an appreciation of the substance of the novel. But it is just as simple to sit back and allow yourself to be transfixed by the magic unfolding on stage as the play excels in its direction based on Sally Cookson’s theatrical adaptation. That sense of good versus evil remains pervasive in the play with the notion of betrayal by a sibling being of particular significance alongside the importance of obeying the rules enshrined within Deep Magic. The four evacuated Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund, and their interactions with each other, whilst contending with the magic and treachery, are delightful to behold within their surroundings in the play.

It is rather refreshing to see modern notions embraced with diverse casting and the four children stay with Professor Kirk, who is reminiscent of Professor Xavier for those X-Men fans out there, and has an animated cat named Schrödinger. Professor Kirk provides a grounding within the play and utters lines of advice such as, “the world is a book and those that do not travel have read one page!”.  It is certainly a production that is elevated by some standout cast performances, notably Shaka Kalokoh as Edmund, and impressive visuals within the set. The play emphasises the seduction of magic and invites the audience to be equally enticed by the use of concentric circles on stage and central stage focused directions. That theme of circles continues above the stage permitting the ghostly, surreal appearance of characters.

At moments, the stage and several scenes are indeed reminiscent of a gothic horror film with dimly lit lamps by the entry to Narnia and indeed a wardrobe that bears symbols reminiscent of the cover of a wizard’s book of spells. The omnipresent sense of sorcery and rituals in the play will captivate audiences immensely.

This version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe also captures a sense of revelry within Narnia, despite the deep winter, which is assisted by on-stage musicians and folk like music with animals and humans interacting freely. That musical ambience creates a warmth and therefore convinces that the Pevensie children would feel at ease in Narnia as the storyline is not completely linear to show their ascension within the magical kingdom.

Samantha Womack, of Eastenders fame and following her run in The Girl on the Train play, revels in playing the icy, evil queen known as the White Witch or Jadis. Her on stage, booming cackling contrasted with her graceful elevation above stage equally terrifies and fascinates. Womack’s performance convinces that a child, such as Edmund, would easily be tempted by her compellingly seductive and sinister nature with promises of Turkish Delight. Her wintry dominion of Narnia is assisted by a snarling, imposing Maugrim, played by Emmanuel Ogunjinmi, who induces fear as he instils the evil orders of the White Witch, as the captain of the Secret Police, across Narnia.

The puppetry throughout the play is impressive and this is most apparent when Aslan appears on stage. There are flying birds and a lion puppet with scenes reminiscent of The Lion King musical, highlighting Aslan’s leadership. In this production, Aslan’s ability to speak is depicted in a human form by Chris Jared. He is portrayed as a rousing leader of the resistance clad in furs à la Jon Snow, from Game of Thrones, rather than the Christ-like presence of the novel. Jared shows that charismatic but balanced side of Aslan and could’ve easily have had even more stage time with the Pevensie children.

Overall, this is an exciting, innovative production that offers a fully immersive, magical experience, with flashes of magic through the set floor emphasising its impact. The play is imbued with humour and merry music to mesmerise its audiences along the journey through Narnia. This adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is an enjoyable show to watch with friends and family alike.

Like what Latoya's said? Book your exclusively priced tickets for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at the Gillian Lynne Theatre today!