It can’t be often that you emerge from the theatre, confident you’ve seen the fledgeling performance of a show so spectacular it’s bound to run, and run and run. But that’s how I felt when I left Theresa Heskin’s adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Rose Theatre, Kingston Upon Thames.
CS Lewis’s tale has been set to music for this stage version. Eamonn O’Dwyer’s compositions fill the void that could so easily be left when an epic, magical tale is compressed into an hour and a half. The songs were polished and dramatic and helped move the action along very neatly; in particular, the scene where the White Witch (played magnificently by Kate Tydman) takes a knife to a bound and gagged Aslan was both terrifying and enthralling, principally because of the music (as well as clever use of lighting).
The wartime backdrop to CS Lewis’s tale is foregrounded in this performance. The eye-catching opening scene, where the parents of the four Pevensie children say goodbye to their evacuee children, is all swing and spectacle. The show’s large team of narrators and extras are introduced in this first scene; their well-coordinated presence adds depth and resonance to the performances of the four children (played by three different teams in rotation; acting this performance must be a gruelling bit of work for these youngsters from the Rose Youth Theatre). The set’s icy beauty (a credit to designer Neil Murray) is also enhanced by real people cast as statues; and, in the battles scenes, the volume of the cast comes into its own, adding the sort of drama that only a dozen or more fighting bodies can evoke.
On the whole, the second half was pacier than the first, although the use of ticker-tape snowflakes did liven up proceedings enough to keep little minds focused on the action. Richard Pryal’s depiction of Aslan was partly the reason why the second half was so engaging. Pryal, with Gabrielle Moleta, animal movement specialist for this performance, had done a magnificent job in conveying the sense of a lion, even though Pryal was on two legs throughout. Tomm Coles, as Maugrim the wolf, was also magnificent as a sloping, edgy dangerous creature.
While I’ve been impressed at the standard of previous shows at the Rose, I was surprised at just how adeptly Ciaron McConville had turned one of my childhood favourites into a show that would not be out of place at the West End. On one or two tiny occasions the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe lacked the gloss that you see when watching a cast made up wholly of professionals. But, on the whole, this show was magnificent: a succulent treat for the chilly winter months.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-Upon Thames until 4 January. We were given tickets for the purpose of this review, but all views are my own.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.