Ever since its publication in 1950, the first Chronicles of Narnia book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, has enchanted children with its magical characters and mystical setting. Though many film, stage and TV adaptations have already been attempted, threesixty Theatre bring the tale to life afresh with a tent-ful of projections, sound effects, stunning puppetry and original music.
Focusing on the 'elemental' feel of the story, Rupert Goold's stage adaptation creates a recognisable but far-from-cheesy Narnia, with Adam Cork's score showcasing live instruments, haunting harmonies and folky chanting. Aslan is created by astonishing puppetry in the style of War Horse or The Lion King, and the actors playing snarling wolves and frolicking woodland creatures completely inhabit their characters on this fairytale set (puppetry, costume and set design by Tom Scutt).
The four central characters, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, are confidently played by Philip Labey, Carly Bawden, Jonny Weldon and Rebecca Benson; the clarity and pace of their dialogue is clearly aimed at the younger audience members, but they avoid being too blandly Famous Five posh. They navigate the delightful and surprising round stage - a trap door here, an aerial performer there, rising wardrobes and shrinking lions - with full energy and not a hint of health and safety. Their battle scenes are totally energetic and committed, for which credit must go to fight director Richard Ryan and choreographer Georgina Lamb.
Every magical moment I mentally challenged them to create onstage, the creative team did, and beautifully - impressive 360-degree projections, subtle sound effects, harnesses and bungee chords giving the cast freedom to push the boundaries of what could happen in Narnia. This show has obviously been lovingly conceived and workshopped, with all cast members complementing each other musically and dramatically. Sally Dexter as Jadis, the White Witch, gives a thrilling and sinister performance as a desperate dictator on her way out. Some moments felt perhaps too scary for the smallest members of the audience present, but we were always brought back to the serenity of Narnia in the end.
I was in some turmoil over whether the production needed as many songs as it had, but by and large the score had won me over by the end - the ensemble's ethereal vocals more of a highlight than the narrative songs from the animals and children. The pace was a little lacking and some clearly talented performers I felt were wasted (the Beavers, one of whom was portrayed by the excellent Sophie-Louise Dann, weren't written as humorously or warmly as they could have been), but overall the earthy concept of this production was full-formed and succeeded in sweeping you away. Between the sweeping setting of Kensington Gardens, huge circus tents and a delightful 'lobby' tent for the interval (boasting pick'n'mix and a wall for your messages to Narnia), threesixty's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a great day out for the whole family.