The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an unforgettably vivid story, a classic novel by C.S Lewis that has acquired a following through manifestations on screen and stage. This whimsical production in Kensington Gardens captures the mysterious allure of the tale while adding to its fun with impressive dancing, music, puppets and aerial acrobatics.
It is a joy to once again see Rupert Goold directing, his ability to translate a story to stage is fluent and creative. The show, which you’d assume was solely catering for kids, is unpredictably good. The world of Narnia is perfectly contained in the illuminated Kensington Gardens circular tent, a challenging environment for any production. Of the night’s surprises it is the visionary puppetry that really made me gasp with excitement. The puppets are an instant reminder of the National Theatre’s hit War Horse with imaginative thrilling creatures coming to life with careful and precise human movement and intervention.
It is a seriously slick production with no blips considering the complex ideas. Trap doors, air entrances and trees on stilts are just part of the set, the rest is conjured up with ethereal video projections, a passionate score from Adam Cork and copious mist from smoke machines. The aerial work is thoroughly enjoyable, though at times perhaps a little unnecessary. It brings a circus like appeal to the show, a cross between Cirque du Soleil and the Lion King.
There is no denying that of the children Jonny Weldon as Edmund is the most captivating, a believably stroppy teenager lured by Turkish Delight. The other children, admittedly not particularly meaty roles to take on, are less sparkly on stage, though I did enjoy Rebecca Benson’s youthful enthusiasm as little Lucy. Sally Dexter is suitably venomous as the White Witch and Forbes Masson is fabulous as Mr Tumnus, producing a gorgeous countertenor sound for one of the early arias.
The great lion Aslan, is a spectacle in itself, a giant and beautiful puppet. The animal moves extremely elegantly thanks to experienced puppeteers: Christain From, Jane Leaney and Will Lucas. David Suchet provides the bellowing voice, a familiar authoritative sound that almost moved me to tears at times.
It seems perhaps counter-intuitive to produce this wintery tale at the height of summer but still through the power of escapism, this show manages to be magical, memorable and utterly mesmerising.
Continues until 9 September 2012, book here.