The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Narnia Business

There is magic and mystery in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, this year’s Schulich Children’s Play at the Stratford Festival, now on stage at the Avon Theatre.  From the beginning when the children are leaving the World War II air raids in London and getting on board a train to live safely in the country, we know it’s going to be an adventure.  A model train, complete with puffing smoke, crosses the stage.

The four youngsters arrive at a professor’s charming country home, where they will stay for the duration of the London blitz.  This home is so interesting, that tour groups actually parade through it.  Young Lucy finds a spare room with a big wooden wardrobe in it.  She climbs into the wardrobe and finds Narnia – a place where it is always winter, but never Christmas.  She brings her three siblings along for the next visit and adventure ensues.The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – On The Run 2016

The four children are perfectly portrayed by four adults — Lucy (Sara Farb), Edmund (André Morin), Susan (Ruby Joy), and Peter (Gareth Potter).  These four actors do a wonderful job of capturing childlike personalities.

Mike Nadajewski is charming as the horned Mr. Tumnus, and Sara Farb as Lucy responds with delight.  Steve Ross as Mr. Beaver adds comedy.  In one scene, he is hugging and examining the fur coats the children took from the wardrobe, looking for a missing friend or relative.  Another source of laughter is Josue Laboucane as Troll, who acts as the White Queen’s minion. His sideways walk has the audience roaring.

Tom McCamus is delightful as the slightly absent-minded Professor Kirk, and then commands the stage as Aslan the Lion.  The Lion costume, something like the horses of War Horse but with pages out of books for his mane, gets hearty entrance applause.

And Yanna McIntosh as the White Witch is suitably evil, perfect for the part, and I’m sure able to scare the wee ones.

Those who have studied the Chronicles of Narnia know the Biblical allegory.  Aslan, the Lion is a Christ-like figure, rising from the dead.  But Director Tim Carroll didn’t take this production too seriously.  He throws in a few modern gestures to attract audiences today.  Stratford has added a nod to Canada – one of the characters in Narnia wears a Hudson’s Bay coat. Although this is children’s theatre, there are a few jokes added to keep adults interested.  In a stack of books, a few of the titles are read aloud, including one about 50 Shades.   And there are some groaner-puns “What were they doing in the wardrobe?” to which Rosemary Dunsmore as Mrs. Macready archly replies, “Narnia business.”

My only concern with this production is the sound. Most of the voices are not amplified, and often, the end of their sentences is lost.  Also, the characters speak with British accents, using children’s or animals’ squeaky voices, making it even more difficult to understand. In particular, it was almost impossible to make out what the bucktoothed Mrs. Beaver was saying. As well, music is played from time to time which drowns out the voices, whether they are speaking or singing.  Thank goodness Aslan, because he is a giant lion, is given an amplified voice, making him easy to understand.

If you’re planning to take the family to this production, be sure the youngsters are familiar with the 1950 fantasy storybook first.  I think they would find it all the more enchanting if the story book comes alive before their eyes.  Little ones (under age 6, but of course, that depends on the child) may not appreciate it and in fact, be frightened by some of the show.  I think any child six or older will enjoy it. A great way to entertain the grandkids.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe continues in repertoire until October 22 (Extended to Nov. 13)  at the Festival Theatre, Stratford.  Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca

Photo: Mike Nadajewski as Mr. Tumnus and Sara Farb as Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Photo by David Hou.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
By C. S. Lewis, dramatized by Adrian Mitchell
Directed by Tim Carroll
Performed by Sara Farb, Ruby Joy, André Morin, Gareth Potter et al.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Avon Theatre, Stratford
June 2 to October 22, 2016 Extended to November 13
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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