Reviewed by: Mary Moncrieff
Long live the children.
In a visually spectacular couple of hours Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and dramatised by Adrian Mitchell takes a well-known children’s tale to new theatrical and musical destinations. Mixing originally composed music by Shaun Davey with astounding puppetry designed by Jo Lakin and Mervyn Millar, this production is an excellent family outing.
The stage is designed to take the audience quickly and easily between the wartime reality of the professor’s house and then through the wardrobe to the magical land of Narnia. During her first jaunt through the mess of fur coats and into the snowy wonderland, Lucy meets a friendly faun, Mr. Tumnus, played lovingly by Jo Servi. His glowing tenor voice fills the auditorium as he sings the show’s initial number setting the scene for why it’s always winter but never Christmas in Narnia.
Once Lucy’s siblings (Peter, Susan and Edmund) join her in the cold world beyond the wardrobe, the show takes off. There are a few weaker musical moments, one especially strange number sung by the White Witch and Edmund about Turkish Delight might be a little off-putting for the adults in the audience, but the awkwardness is mostly distracted by exciting magic spells and a very funny dwarf, played magnificently by actress and puppeteer Danielle Bird.
Truly the puppetry is the star of the show. When Aslan finally appears one could hear a pin drop in the theatre as all bask in the glory of the perfectly executed theatricality that is three men expertly moving a lion in the most believable and feline manner. Nuno Silva who voices Aslan is tremendous, shining notably in the song that celebrates his resurrection. Additional puppet work by ensemble members to create wolves, birds, squirrels, foxes and all manner of forest creatures is exciting and dynamic.
The show is filled to the brim with what can only be described as theatre magic. One particular disappearing/reappearing act elicits audible “Ooos” from young audience members and it is this kind of reaction that makes the show a perfect introduction for children to theatre. Davey’s final number is an homage to an English hymn sung in gorgeous harmony by the company and during the final bows when it becomes an a cappella ballad the feeling in the room is jubilant. While the acting leaves something to be desired at various moments, and some movement sequences are clunky and disjointed, ultimately the production hits you right where you hope it does. The closing number leaves us with a great message as the holiday season approaches: “Long live the children, long live the music, long live the magic.”
Runs until 16 January 2016